NAIROBI, Oct 20 (Reuters) Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki vowed today to double economic growth if re-elected later this year and called an opposition plan to create a federal system a recipe for tribal conflict.
Opinion polls have put Kibaki, 75, in second place behind opposition leader Raila Odinga ahead of parliamentary and residential elections.
Kibaki, who used to be regarded as a politician who liked to delegate, has re-energised his campaign in the weeks since he fell behind in the polls and begun taking his message to the public.
''In the next five years under my leadership, we shall grow the economy to double its current size,'' Kibaki said in a speech marking the Kenyatta Day holiday to honour Kenyans who fought for independence from Britain 45 years ago.
Kenya's economy, the biggest in east Africa, has been on the road to recovery since Kibaki, an economist, came to power in late 2002. The east African nation's economy grew 7.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2007.
Critics have accused Kibaki of favouring his own Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest, and of failing to fulfil a promise to tackle graft at the highest level.
Tribal affiliations play a huge role in Kenyan politics, and politicians are quick to fan rivalries.
Kibaki accused the opposition of lying to Kenyans to get their votes, especially his arch-rival Odinga, whose Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is campaigning on a federalism platform.
Federalism appeals to smaller tribes or those that feel marginalised. Kenya's government is largely centralised.
''The issue of federalism, for instance, has been portrayed as the one solution to the social and economic challenges we face.
This is only likely to fan tribal sentiments,'' Kibaki told thousands of people at Nyayo stadium in Nairobi.
He said his government had devolved power to all Kenyans through free primary education, improved health care and the creation of development funds for youth, women and local constituencies.
The date of the election has not yet been announced but the country is in the grip of election fever. Odinga and former foreign minister Kalonzo Musyoka, another presidential hopeful, are criss-crossing the country in search of votes.
Though he did not mention Odinga by name, Kibaki took aim at those who had served in his government but fallen out with him.
''Evaluate those seeking elected leadership positions.
Scrutinise their past records, examine their character, and judge them on the basis of what they have done for this country,'' he said.
REUTERS SZ MIR KP1926