DESPITE probable vote-rigging at past elections and continuing corruption in government, Kenya is one of the few African countries that can claim to have embraced the democratic process and made it work. Tomorrow this reputation will be put to the test again at presidential elections in which, according to the polls, there is nothing to choose between the two leading candidates.
The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, and his challenger Raila Odinga, were allies at the last election in 2002 when they collaborated successfully to end the long rule of President Daniel Arap Moi, but they are now bitter opponents.
As in so many countries today this election cannot be discussed in Western terms of competing parties which draw support from a broad consituency across a country. In Kenya it is tribal loyalties that matter most. Mwai Kibaki comes from the largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, to which Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president belonged; Raila Odinga comes from the Luo, the country's second largest ethnic group.
Kenya's electoral rules have been cleverly designed to ensure that any president must gain support in areas other than his own tribal base and as a result whichever candidate wins the most votes tomorrow will almost certainly need to enlist support from one of the country's 40 ethnic groups.
As ever, however, such coalition building runs the risk of denying the person with the most personal votes from winning the contest in the end. In Kenya such denial could lead to violence, an outcome that would ill-serve Kenya's multi-racial reputation.
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