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Crisis rocks Kenya’s power-sharing government

A statement by Odinga’s ODM party said in part that “the Prime Minister as the leader of ODM has declared a dispute between the coalition…

A statement by Odinga’s ODM party said in part that “the Prime Minister as the leader of ODM has declared a dispute between the coalition partners and seeks the immediate intervention of the African Union, in particular the Office of the Eminent African Personalities chaired by His Excellency Dr Kofi Annan, to convene a meeting to discuss the current crisis”. Annan is afterall, the midwife of the coalition government, having mediated the violent post-election aftermath, when both Kibaki and Odinga had claimed victory. The coalition government entered the crisis situation when President Mwai Kibaki nullified the prime minister’s suspension of two cabinet ministers who had been linked to some corruption scandals. These scandals had tarnished the image of the government, with government officials being accused of siphoning millions of dollars originally earmarked to assist the country’s poor.

In one of the cases, funds for Kenya’s free education program were allegedly stolen, as VOA reported, “behind a trail of fraudulent bookkeeping”. The scandal led to the freezing of financial support by the United States and Britain. In the other case, a subsidized maize scheme, ostensibly put in place to feed starving Kenyans, was “used by well-connected individuals to enrich themselves on exorbitant profit margins”. The VOA report added that key allies of both president and prime minister were implicated in the corruption investigations with the political fallout “widening the divide between the two”. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Odinga announced the immediate suspension of two top officials pending investigation into “their respective roles in the missing funds”.

The Minister of Education, Sam Ongeri is a well-known ally of President Mwai Kibaki, while William Ruto, the Minister of Agriculture “is a fierce critic of the prime minister within his own party”. In announcing the suspension, Odinga said “I am taking this action because two recent investigations, the forensic audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the maize scandal and the report of the internal auditor general on free primary education, have laid credible foundations for the two ministers to be investigated”. The ministers rejected their removal arguing that the prime minister lacked power to remove them from office. In a dig at Odinga, Education Minister, Ongeri told the media that “I have not heard any message from the appointing authority, and I am quite clear in my mind who is the appointing authority. Thank You”. It was after this that President Mwai Kibaki issued his own statement that Raila Odinga lacked the legal powers to remove the two ministers; he then stated that “constitutionally they therefore remain in office”, according to the VOA report.  But not to be seen to be endorsing corruption, President Kibaki then added that Kenya’s fight against corruption “will be successfully fought when we do so in accordance with the Constitution and the due process of law”. The agreement signed at the advent of the unity government had stipulated that ministers may not be sacked without the consent of the other governing party.

The crisis in the unity government commenced in the wake of the corruption scandal. Odinga had asked two of his aides named in an independent maize audit to step down to allow for investigations. This was followed by the decision of President Kibaki to announce the suspension of six other senior officials. It is the prime minister that chairs an inter-agency committee tasked with the importation of relief maize. Odinga came under fire last week from activist groups and opponents after the audit by PricewaterhouseCooper “allegedly implicated his office in the maize misappropriations”. This was after he had called for top officials of the ministry of education to quit over the missing free school funds”.

In response to these developments, Kenyans took to the streets last Wednesday to vent anger at the coalition government’s inability to resolve graft allegations or even make the major reforms which had been pledged in the past two years. Thousands of displaced people, who suffered after the outbreak of violence which trailed the disputed 2007 elections, began a march from the Rift Valley to Nairobi on Tuesday. They argued that the crisis engulfing the coalition administration could deepen the misery of hundreds of families still in limbo, two years after the election violence. Peter Kariuki, who led the demonstration, told AFP that “we have a message for the president. We want him to listen to our grievances because we fear this coalition may collapse before we are resettled as promised”. The 200 kilometer procession was eventually aborted when armed police blocked the highway while government lorries ferried them back to their tents and local authorities promised to take their concerns to the government. Similarly, anti-corruption activists demonstrated outside President Kibaki’s office in Nairobi. The media reported demonstrators as requesting for political accountability. AFP quoted Okiya Omtatah, who led the protesters as saying “we call upon [the president] to use state machinery to ensure the two suspended ministers do not continue to occupy their ministerial offices”.

Kenya’s coalition government has often been described as unwieldy and is regularly criticized at home and abroad for inability to tackle the root cause of the post-election violence of December 2007; 250,000 people were displaced and up to 15,000 of these are still in camps. The violence also claimed about 1,500 lives. Perpetrators of the violence have not been brought to justice while there have been no concerted efforts to end regimes of impunity and corruption. It was the inability of the government which led to resignation from the government on Monday, of Martha Karua, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; a resignation which was significantly seen as an indication that it is President Kibaki’s wing of the coalition that is stalling pressing reforms. In quitting the government, Karua announced that her position was “untenable following recent decisions in the ministry”. Karua’s party, according to AllAfrica.com, is a junior partner allied to Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU). Kibaki had appointed five High Court judges and promoted two to the Court of Appeal, allegedly without consulting Martha Karua. They were similarly sworn-in in her absence and she maintained, together with the Law Society of Kenya, that the appointments were not on merit. By Tuesday, NARC-Kenya secretary general, Danson Mungata, also resigned as an assistant minister.

But underlining a lot of the posturing in Kenya is politics as Kenya moves close to elections in 2012. Francois Grignon, the International Crisis Group’s director for Africa said “Odinga has never shown much zeal in the fight against corruption. Therefore if he is taking such a lead at this time, it is because he has a political interest in the matter. Odinga’s objective is to stoke a crisis two years after signing of the (power-sharing) accord to regain political capital”. On the other hand, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR newspaper said Raila Odinga’s stand against corruption, even against members of his own party, “puts him in good stead with Kenyans tired of leaders who seek political office merely for personal profit”. It went on to report that recent polls show that Raila Odinga “is the most trusted politician in Kenya, with just under 40 percent support from voters”. Aly-Khan Satchu, an analyst, is quoted by the paper as saying “[Odinga] took action. He got the first resignations to happen because of corruption. He forced Kibaki to act. [Odinga] is showing the world, ‘I’m trying to do something about corruption’”.

It is further posited that while Raila Odinga might look good with the international community and those anti-corruption groups within the country, his position within his ODM party has weakened, because former allies like the embattled Agriculture Minister William Ruto, have shifted support for President Kibaki. Satchu said these moves have deep ethnic undertones, with the likely scenario of a coalition of Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Kamba being put in place. “If you do the tribal math, Raila is in trouble, because he rode on the back of Ruto and the Kalenjins to get elected”, Satchu was quoted by THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. It is a combination of all the latest developments which make analysts predict that the coalition government is on the verge of collapse. So deep is the frustration with the government, that even the protestant and Anglican churches are calling for fresh elections. Last Monday, Odinga delivered a very harsh criticism of President Kibaki, describing his leadership style as “primitive”. The ODM has even threatened to boycott cabinet meetings.

Yet by the middle of last week, Prime Minister Odinga began to sound conciliatory, saying that he was “confident” that the main partners of the coalition government would find a way to end the rift. He spoke in Tokyo, Japan, at the beginning of a five day visit. “Sometimes disagreements and misunderstandings will arise between coalition partners. That does not mean that the coalition will collapse….There are ways…to negotiate and to find solutions. This is one such case and I am confident that we will find a solution”, he was quoted by the DAILY NATION of Thursday. The paper however said his confidence was not reflected back home, as a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday was cancelled and “his PNU coalition partners vowed to take the feud against him to Parliament when it resumes next week. MPs allied to PNU on Wednesday resolved to trim Mr. Odinga’s influence in parliament by pushing for the appointment of Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as leader of Government Business”. Responding to the situation, Kofi Annan issued a statement on Thursday, which “acknowledges the immense challenges facing Kenya at this time”. It urged “the coalition partners to focus on the difficult tasks ahead, and to re-dedicate themselves to the full and speedy implementation of the reform agenda for the sake of the prosperity and wellbeing of all Kenyans”. What remains clear is that the coalition government is in deep crisis as it remains unable to meet the basic yearnings of the Kenyan people two years down the line. Furthermore, the coalition partners have began to posture for advantage in the run up to the elections of 2012. The days ahead will be very long indeed for Kenya’s politics.

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