It was a 100-mile journey and a world apart from the grand home that Mwai Kibaki, the 71-year-old leader of Kenya’s united opposition, now occupies in the exclusive Muthaiga neighborhood of Nairobi, the capital.
Setting out today on something of a royal procession to his struggling native village of Othaya, near Mount Kenya, Mr. Kibaki exuded confidence about capturing the presidency now that Daniel arap Moi is stepping down after 24 years in power. “We believe we shall win,” said Mr. Kibaki, who failed to do so in 1992 and 1997.
Mr. Kibaki then climbed into a Mercedes-Benz for his first serious campaigning since a car accident on Dec. 3 left him with a broken arm, sprained ankle and cracked vertebrae and forced him to undertake what electioneering he could manage from a wheelchair.
President Moi’s decision to abide by the Kenyan Constitution and step aside in this election is seen across Africa as a hopeful sign that a continent too well known for its long-reigning, authoritarian rulers and for the corruption that often flourishes among their retinues can turn toward democracy.
Accordingly, Mr. Kibaki, who himself spent long years in Kenya’s governing elite and once served Mr. Moi as vice president, has been emphasizing his decision to break with Mr. Moi a decade ago. He claims credit for helping to begin an opposition movement that is now expected to wrest power from the party, founded by Jomo Kenyatta, that has governed the country since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963.
Opinion polls and pundits give Mr. Kibaki a healthy lead over his main rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the Kenyan African National Union, which has governed first under Mr. Kenyatta’s father and, since 1978, under Mr. Moi.
A poll released last month by the International Republican Institute, which receives financing from the United States government, gave Mr. Kibaki 68 percent of the vote compared to 21 percent for Mr. Kenyatta.
That lead is widely thought to have narrowed considerably since then, as backers of both campaigns have used money — and some violence, though less than in Kenya’s two previous campaigns — to try to sway voters.
What is most feared is that the governing party will attempt to rig the election if it finds its back to the wall. Mr. Kibaki has not joined in making such accusations, but one of his main supporters, the veteran opposition politician Raila Odinga, has threatened to storm Mr. Moi’s presidential mansion if the opposition movement, the National Rainbow Coalition, is denied what appears to be a certain victory.
Foreign and Kenyan analysts ascribe Mr. Kibaki’s chances of success this time in large part to the rare unity of Kenya’s myriad opposition parties.
Both Mr. Kibaki, an economist by training, and Mr. Kenyatta have sold themselves as agents for change at this critical juncture for the 30 million Kenyans, about half of whom survive on less than a dollar a day.
Mr. Kenyatta, who is 42 and a relative political novice, calls himself “a fresh start.” Mr. Kibaki’s campaign commercials get right at the central issue of corruption and promise “a clean slate.”
The candidates agree that Kenya’s economy is on its knees, that corruption has reached from the highest offices in the land to police officers on the beat and that crime is so out of control that it has scared away many tourists.
Both men also belong to the Kikuyu, Kenya’s main tribe. But unlike Mr. Kibaki, who is a Ugandan- and London-educated economist, Mr. Kenyatta is an American-educated businessman who has not spent his entire career in politics. He speaks of the importance of bringing Kenya into a high-tech world.
“It is my generation that controls the economies of the world and has embraced new advances in new technology,” Mr. Kenyatta told supporters at a campaign rally on Christmas Day. He dismissed Mr. Kibaki, who helped found the Kenyan African National Union, known as KANU, before it led Kenya to independence, and other opposition leaders of being part of “a generation of yesterday.”
But Mr. Kenyatta had an impediment in this campaign in the form of Mr. Moi. No matter how hard Mr. Kenyatta tried to proclaim himself his own man, voters could not forget that the departing president handpicked him as his candidate and spoke openly of being around to assist him once he was elected president.
As Mr. Kibaki’s campaign picked up steam, Mr. Moi hit the countryside to support his protege, who in turn tried to keep a distance from his patron.
“I offer you a completely new approach,” Mr. Kenyatta said during a last round of campaigning this week. He accused Mr. Kibaki and other opposition leaders of offering “continuity with Moi’s and KANU’s ways.”
Mr. Kibaki, who now rails against the abuses of the governing party, wrote the party’s constitution, demanding that the colonial governor release Jomo Kenyatta from detention.
Like most members of the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s largest, Mr. Kibaki took the oath of the Mau Mau, the Kikuyu secret society that fought for independence, vowing to do everything he could to end the colonial rule of Kenya, said his stepbrother, Samuel Githinji Kibaki.
“We never thought he’d be vice president, let alone president,” the stepbrother said.
Education proved to be Mr. Kibaki’s ticket out of rural poverty. He did so well at Makerere University in Uganda that he won a scholarship to the London School of Economics. After earning an honors degree in London, Mr. Kibaki taught at Makerere for a year and then became one of the young intellectuals helping to set up an independent Kenya.
Mr. Kibaki rose in the elder Mr. Kenyatta’s administration, becoming his finance minister. He stayed on when Mr. Moi took over, rising to vice president.
President Moi, who has been through scores of ministers and top aides in his time in office, eventually fired him as his No. 2, but Mr. Kibaki stayed on as health minister, speaking out about the dangers of AIDS in the late 1980’s when the disease was beginning to ravage Africa.
In 1991, when Mr. Moi acceded to foreign pressure and opened up Kenya to opposition parties, Mr. Kibaki formed the Democratic Party of Kenya. Over the last decade, he has emerged as the opposition leader with the widest nationwide support.
“Kibaki was in the government when Kenya was still on its feet,” said one of his supporters, John M. Maina, who heads a trade association. “We had jobs. The roads were smooth. Now everybody is suffering.”
Some of the men now in Mr. Kibaki’s coalition were condemning him just months ago as someone who was part of the ugly past of Kenya.
“The economic mess we have in the country today is because of his days of finance minister,” Mr. Odinga, now one of Mr. Kibaki’s strong backers, said of Mr. Kibaki in February, also labeling him “a coward and hypocrite” who should “stop dreaming about ever ruling Kenya.”
Mr. Odinga, who left the ruling party to join the Rainbow Coalition and put his own presidential ambitions on hold, attributes those remarks to the emotions of the campaign trail, and now calls Mr. Kibaki the best man for the difficult job of trying to give a country once ranked among Africa’s brightest hopes a fresh start.Top