The end of President Jomo Kenyatta's political era was marked last weekend as more than a third of his one-time Cabinet ministers lost their seats in a general election that also vindicated Kenya's multiracial policies by sending a white and an Asian to the National Assembly.
The Kenyan parliament has been entirely black for a decade. No white has been elected before, although one was nominated by Kenyatta. Both the white, Philip Leakey, son of the anthropogists Louis and Mary leakey, and the Asian, Khrishna Gautama, a Hindu lawyer, were returned on a black vote owing little to the support of their community.
White Kenyans in Leakey's suburban Langata constitutency have a record of political apathy, which the appearance of a white candidate did nothing to change.
Gautama, whose election rallies featured teams of traditional African dancers led by an atheletic Sikh in turban, track suit and running shoes, certainly got more support from the rich Asian businessmen in his central Nairobi constitutuency, but the Asian vote made up only one-sixth of the electorate in his constituency. Most of his campaign was organized by blacks and aimed at the black vote.
The ousting of such a large section of the Cabinet, which President Daniel arap Moi had taken over with only small changes after Kenyatta's death, was in part the result of a substantial protest vote by the large Luo tribe of western Kenya. The protest was aimed at a govenment decision a month ago to bar from the election the veteran opposition leader, Oginga Odinga, once vice president of Kenya, and four other former members of his banned and defunct party, the Kenya People's Union.
Odlinga and his colleagues have been kept out of politics for more than a decade, but last week's election proved without any doubt that Odinga, 67, retains influence in Luoland.
Among the seven ministers who lost their seats, the most humiliating defeat was suffered in western Kenya by the minister of power and communications, Omolo Okero, who is also chairman of Kenya's sole political party, the Kenya African National Union. He was beaten in a landslide by Odinga's son-in-law. Three assistant ministers were beaten by the protest vote, too, including a rising star of the Moi administration, Maina Wangigi, who was surprisingly ousted by the Luo vote in Nairobi.
Although Kenya is a one-party state, the general elections every five years demonstrate considerable political vitality in the country and discrimination by the electorate.
Many constituencies field six or eight candidates. The turnout is often as high as 80 percent, although many voters must walk miles to a polling station. Even in Nairobi, a four-hour wait to vote is not uncommon. More than 60 percent of the incumbents lost their seats last week -- a higher proportion than in the two previous postindependence elections. This election is considered to have been much more fairly run than the last. So far there have been few accusations of irregularity.
During the three-week campaign, election spending is restricted but large sums are dispensed to aid local schools, water systems, and dispenaries in the weeks before the campaign starts. Rivers of beer have flowed, and thousands of women have danced at rallies. Character assassination is routine from the hustings, meetings last for hours in blazing sun. Some candidates opt for action rather than words -- like the minister (safely reelected) who walked around his rural constituency for the last week of the campaign with a lion on a leash saying, "I don't need to tell you how strong I am, you can see for yourselves."
During the campaign the riot police were called out more than once to brawls at meetings. One self-proclaimed witch was arrested and one man was jailed for six months for throwing a bucket of dung at a minister.