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Kibaki takes oath as Kenya's third president

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Tens of thousands of Kenyans roared their approval as Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as their president Monday, exulting in his historic victory over the party that ruled the country for nearly four decades.

Many people climbed up trees and lampposts to witness the inauguration of the man they are counting on to rebuild this once prosperous East African nation. Kibaki, 71, a former vice president and finance minister, promised not to disappoint them.

The crowd jeered and heckled outgoing President Daniel arap Moi -- who ruled the country for 24 years with an autocratic hold on power -- as he arrived at Nairobi's downtown Uhuru Park for the inauguration and sat next to his successor.

Moi listened stone-faced as Kibaki highlighted the failings of his government.

"I am inheriting a country which has been badly ravaged by years of misrule and ineptitude," Kibaki told the huge crowd. "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."

When Kibaki told the crowd that government should not be a burden on the people, one man shouted, "Tell him!" and pointed at Moi.

Kibaki pledged to create jobs for millions of unemployed, provide free primary education and lead a government that won't be run on the "whims of individuals."

Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition won a landslide victory in elections on Friday, ending 39 years of rule by the Kenya Africa National Union.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker welcomed the election as having been free and fair. He praised Moi and Kibaki's opponents for an orderly change in Nairobi.

Moi, 78, was forced to step down by a 1991 constitutional amendment that limits presidents to two five-year terms. In complying, he paved the way for a peaceful transfer of power, rare on the African continent.

On stage, he handed over the ceremonial sword of command to Kibaki -- who was in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg from a car accident this month -- and shook his hand, congratulating him on his victory. "The people of Kenya have spoken," Moi said.

Many Kenyans blame Moi, whose blanket use of patronage resulted in crippling mismanagement, for the culture of corruption that has plunged Kenya into its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1963 and frightened away much-needed foreign investors.

Police estimate that more than 100,000 people attended the ceremony; many were perched on trees, lampposts and adjacent buildings to witness the historic event.

"It's a great day in the history of Kenya because it's like a second independence for Kenya. For the first time our wishes as an electorate have gone through successfully," said Ferdinand Makokha. "It's been a dream for every Kenyan."

The 26-year-old is an office messenger who earns $39 a month. He doesn't earn enough to even think about getting married, but Kibaki's promises have given him fresh hope.

"We are looking for more jobs, things should get better now," he said.

Although the Electoral Commission had not released final results by Monday, provisional results gave Kibaki 63 percent of the vote to 30 percent for his principal rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, the ruling party candidate. Kenyatta conceded defeat on Sunday.

With at least 122 seats, Kibaki's coalition was guaranteed an absolute majority in the 210-seat elected parliament.

The coalition says it can save the state $308 million by stamping out corruption and streamlining government and raise $192 million by privatizing state-owned enterprises the Moi government used as cash cows.

It is also promising to create 500,000 jobs a year. There are no accurate unemployment figures for the Texas-size nation, where most people are still subsistence farmers. Few of those who aren't have regular jobs; more than half the population of 30 million live on less than $1 a day.

For families, the single largest expense is primary school tuition -- about $360 a year in Nairobi, more than the average per capita income of $300.

"I think they are going to improve the economy so our children can learn to read," said Joseph Mutemwa, a 38-year-old businessman. Kibaki's victory "means Kenya's economy will grow and employment will be created. ... It's a very big day, with a big B."

Kibaki, Moi's vice president from 1978-1988, had been a leading opposition figure since multiparty politics were reintroduced in 1991. He had also been Kenya's longest-serving finance minister, holding the post from 1969 to 1982 -- a period of relative prosperity.

Kibaki said the challenges facing his government were intimidating but pledged that the alliance would not disappoint the expectant nation.

"Our phenomenal success in so short a time is proof that by working together in unity we can move Kenya forward," he said. "It's the love of Kenya that brought us together; we chose to let go of our individual differences and personal ambitions."

But it may not be easy keeping together his 11-week-old alliance of more than 10 parties -- long divided along tribal lines -- and a number of former ruling party stalwarts. Senior members, many of whom have publicly expressed their desires to lead the country, rival one another in ego and personal ambition.

But Monday was a day for Kenyans to savor the opposition victory and the end of the Moi era.

"I never used to think this could happen because Moi was ruling this country like his house," said Jacqueline Macharia, an unemployed single mother of three. "It is a very important day for Kenyans because they have swept away all the dirt that used to stop them from progressing."


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