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New Poll Shows Lack of Confidence in Kenya's Government


One year after the signing of a power-sharing agreement in Kenya, a new survey indicates a sharp decline in public confidence in the country's coalition government. The poll comes as corruption scandals and a proposed electoral commission widen the government's partisan divisions.

This week marks the first anniversary of the power-sharing agreement signed between Kenya's two main political parties, which put an end to weeks of violence, following disputed presidential elections. That the government is still together and widespread violence has not returned can be seen as an achievement.

But when asked in a new survey by Steadman - a prominent Kenyan polling outfit - to name the government's main accomplishments, the reply of more than two-thirds of respondents was a resounding "nothing."

Similarly, less than a third of the sample thought that Kenya's leaders are committed to tackling the major challenges facing the country, from fighting corruption, to punishing those suspected of involvement in the post-election violence.

In the past year, the country's two major political groups have both lost support. Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement remains more popular than President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity, by a margin of 38 to 23 percent. According to researcher Tom Wolfe, who conducted the survey, a growing number of Kenyans say they have abandoned both parties.

"I looked at political party alignment figures a year ago," Wolfe said. "At that time 53 percent identified with ODM, PNU was at 29 percent, ODM-Kenya was at seven percent. But the interesting thing is, a year ago, those who said they didn't affiliate with any party were only seven percent. Now it's 37."

Recent weeks have seen the already-prominent divisions between the coalition partners grow even more glaring.

Last week, Justice Minister Martha Karua, an ally of the president, led a failed attempt to oust Agriculture Minister William Ruto, an ally of the prime minister, about corruption allegations.

This week, the government has been responding to parliament's rejection of the proposed head of Kenya's new electoral commission. Cecil Miller has been accused of having close ties to political leaders from President Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group from Central Kenya, reopening the ethnic political divisions that marked the 2007 election.

Fewer than one third of the respondents in the Steadman survey think the coalition government will hold together until the next elections, scheduled for 2012.

A recent report by the Quaker church in Kenya suggests that ethnic tensions in the Rift Valley remain acute. The region saw the worst of the post-election violence, much of it between members of Ruto's Kalenjin group and the Kikuyu group of Karua and President Kibaki.

Quaker Peace Director John Muhanji says there remains a real risk of renewed violence.

"Unless the Kenyan leaders, both the church and the political elite, and the entire community, especially from our top leaders, take the initiative of reconciling these communities, if elections are called tomorrow, there will be a lot of violence in the Rift Valley," Muhanji said.

Adding to popular frustrations with the government's performance has been a sluggish economic performance, caused in large part to last year's clashes. Kenya's finance minister announced this week that growth for 2008 was less than 2.5 percent, down from more than seven percent in 2007.


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