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Kenyan Leaders Agree on New Power-Sharing Cabinet

The leaders of Kenya's two main parties say a new power-sharing agreement will be announced on Sunday and cabinet ministers are to be sworn in on Saturday, April 12. The sides have been deadlocked on the naming of the cabinet ministers, prompting concerns about the viability of the proposed coalition. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

After meeting with President Mwai Kibaki, opposition leader Raila Odinga said the two have agreed on the size of the cabinet and that its members will be announced on Sunday.

"Today we have reached some agreement about the size of the cabinet," Mr. Odinga said. "We have also agreed that we will announce the cabinet on Sunday, and that the cabinet will be sworn in on Saturday."

The cabinet is to consist of 40 ministers, though it is not yet clear how far the leaders have come in assigning the portfolios.

Mr. Odinga, under an earlier agreement, is set to assume the newly-created post of prime minister.

During the past week, the smiles and statements of unity that accompanied the deal mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February gave way to a darker mood, as the leaders struggled with the question of how to actually share power.

At the heart of the dispute is the desire by both sides to control not just an equal number of ministries, but an equal share of the most powerful positions. The most contested portfolios include local government, internal security, and especially finance.

While most public appeals to resolve the deadlock have been directed at both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga, the president's side has been the implied target of much of the criticism.

University of Nairobi political scientist Philip Nyinguro blamed the president for the impasse.

"It appears that he is still held up because he wants to fulfill the interests of his allies and maybe those whom he feels he owes something," Nyinguro said. "As a final term president, most of us thought he was very free now and that he would do something to build his legacy, and that he could not be held at ransom anymore by his allies."

In addition to the fight for key ministries, the past week has been filled with calls for a "lean and clean" cabinet, from civil society groups, religious leaders, and newspaper editorials.

The announcement that the cabinet will grow from 34 to 40 ministers is likely to disappoint those who argued that the money required to sustain such a large bureaucracy would be better spent on development projects.

Gladwell Otieno, who heads the Africa Center for Open Governance, was among civil society leaders who took part in a demonstration in Nairobi's main park on Tuesday to call for a cabinet of no more than 24 ministers.

"It is clear that this crisis is not definitively over," Otieno said. "It is important to note that much wealthier countries than Kenya maintain way smaller cabinets than we have historically done. For example France has only 15, the U.K. 25. Could there be a relationship between development and a small cabinet? Kenya needs a smart government, not a big one."

As the demonstration of roughly 100 prepared to march into town to deliver a statement to the president, police fired teargas at the crowd, including Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai.

Despite the apparent breakthrough, many observers fear that the cabinet dispute is an indication of the lingering distrust between the two parties, and that the task of operating the coalition will grow more difficult as the government turns to its agenda of overhauling the country's constitution and tackling other institutional reforms.