In fact, significant political organization on a scale that could have led to the president's ouster and replacement by a government acceptable to a majority of Kenyans was extremely difficult at this time. Ability to organize sustained backing for cross-regional initiatives was now sharply circumscribed in two ways. First, the presence of multiple factions exacerbated the problem of defections for coalition-builders.
Notwithstanding these bars to the effective organization of an opposition, the president appeared increasingly fearful of dissidence in any form. During the period before and after the measures to eliminate welfare societies, he continually cautioned Kenyans to beware of disgruntled elements and warned that traitors would receive ruthless treatment. Moi employed three tactics to try to secure his grip on power. First, he tried to expand the scope of restrictions on political activity. For example, he requested that Parliament contemplate limits on press freedom as a way to deny potential opposition leaders an audience. The minister for information and broadcasting announced that Kenya could no longer afford a free press.
Expenditure on police services, especially in rural areas, expanded greatly. Beginning in 1978 and 1979, the approved budget allocations for the Office of the President, which in Kenya at this time had responsibility for the police forces, shot up. Disaggregated by type of expenditure, the budget appears to have increased most rapidly in the category of personal emoluments for the police, Criminal Investigation Department, and Government Services Unit staff, and in the category of GSU transport (the latter a possible indication of increased activity, as well as of increased numbers of personnel, although it is not known whether purchases of trucks and other transport may have been to replace aging equipment). Because the rates of growth in personal emoluments exceeded the rates of growth in numbers of personnel, it can be assumed that in addition to enhancing the capability of the police, Moi was seeking to increase their fidelity to him by purchasing their loyalty. By 1985, the budget of the Office of the President was greater than that of any other ministry or government function, with estimates totaling K£74,932,700.
Moi's second tactic was to render illegal any attempt to constitute an opposition to KANU. In June 1982, two months after a statement by the Luo MP George Anyona that he and Oginga Odinga planned to found a new political party, the Office of the President proposed that Kenya be declared a single-party state. Anyona had said that the time was ripe for creation of a second political party, an assertion for which KANU expelled him from its ranks. In May, with Oginga Odinga, he established the Kenya African Socialist Alliance (KASA).
By himself, Odinga did not command sufficient power to warrant such a strong and politically costly reaction on Moi's part. A GEMA-Luo combination, however, could conceivably have rallied sufficient support to force the issue of party registration to the floor of Parliament and Moi's decision most likely reflected an assessment by the president that a party involving Odinga would also involve either the GEMA machine, now underground but not defunct, or the new Rift Valley populists. A Luo-Rift coalition would have wielded less parliamentary power than a GEMA combination but might have elicited substantial popular support during a period when economic difficulties had stirred general unease.
The constitutional amendment to make Kenya a de jure single-party system moved quickly through the legislature, with little overt objection from the honorable members. The difficulty of organizing a parliamentary opposition did not indicate general support for the president's proposal, however. MP Koigi wa Wamwere complained that at a KANU parliamentary group meeting, MPs were threatened with detention without trial if they did not go along with the proposal.
A little more than a month later, Kenyan political life was disrupted by a shadowy coup attempt that startled the country's allies, who had always considered the nation a stable point in an otherwise turbulent continent. The exact character of the "August Disturbances," as they were euphemistically known, has never been clarified and is likely to remain indecipherable. Members of the air force, a youthful and highly educated segment of the military, allegedly combined with university students and disaffected members of the Luo community to dislodge the Moi government. After eleven days of skirmishing in the capital, the rebel group met defeat at the hands of Government Services Unit (GSU) elite forces. The slowness of the army to respond to calls for assistance has led some observers to speculate that the uprising was really two or even three coup attempts launched from different quarters and gone awry. The demands of the coup plotters were never clear, although opposition to the move to a single-party system was widely believed to have been one of the motives.
The Office of the President embarked on a series of moves to try to curtail underground associations. The arrest of a large number of Luo, including Odinga's son, Raila Omolo Odinga, for participation in the August Disturbances, and the detention of the Rift Valley populist and Nakuru North MP Koigi wa Wamwere followed the collapse of the resistance. Surveillance of the university expanded and resulted in periodic questioning and detention of lecturers. The police Special Branch stepped up its monitoring of foreign press organizations and aid agencies, at one point closing the Associated Press offices after AP placed on the wire a story describing food shortages in Meru. The Ford Foundation representative came under fire when a report on the events of 1982 he had prepared for the foundation's New York office was intercepted and passed to the internal security agencies.
State House also moved to limit even more severely the political space available to members of Parliament. One senior minister initiated an inquiry into the funding received by radical MPs for harambee meetings. Next came an end to parliamentary privilege, the provision that enabled members to obtain information from the executive, and on which ability to hold the government responsible for the actions of its officers depended. Finally, on June 4, Parliament voted to reinstate the detention laws, suspended between 1978 and 1982.
Thus, the failure of members of Parliament and extra-parliamentary leaders to resist imposition of restrictions earlier had triggered a poorly planned and coordinated attempt to restore room for political opposition in Kenya. The failure stemmed largely from the difficulty of assembling stable bases of support in a single-party-dominant system with a high degree of fragmentation and from the limitations placed on politicians' ability to use exchange of private harambee funds to secure one another's support. Over the next three years, resistance to further assumption of party functions by the Office of the President would become more and more challenging. The move to a party-state was almost assured.