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Washington Expresses Worry About Kenya’s Political Impasse


President Barack Obama's administration is expressing worry that ongoing political impasse within Kenya's coalition government could potentially degenerate into chaos reminiscent of the 2007 post-election violence. After separate meetings with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, urged the leaders to resolve political tensions which he said could plunge the country into chaos. Some political observers believe instability is a bigger threat to Kenya's prospects than the global financial crisis.

Koigi Wamwere is Kenya's former deputy information minister. He told VOA that Carson's visit is unlikely to help resolve the political impasse between the president and the prime minister.

"I think that the worries of the Obama administration are quite genuine that the coalition may not be working so well because the differences between the principles, between the major parties continue to express themselves quite worryingly," Wamwere said.

He said there were indications that the unity government would not be successful.

"In my view, this was bound to be because if you have two parties in the same government that are not pulling in the same direction, that do not share the same ideology and do not even have the same vision for the country, it is very difficult for such a government to work as harmoniously as another government would work if it were to be just one party government," he said.

Wamwere said there should have been an election run-off after both parties failed to win the first round of the 2007 general election.

"My view is that after it was concluded by the Kriegler Commission that neither President Kibaki nor Prime Minster Raila Odinga had won the election, the way forward should have been to go back to a repeat election," Wamwere said.

He said the country's political leaders have failed the nation.

"Here things are different to the extent that the government is held hostage by the political leaders," he said.

Wamwere said the meetings between the U.S. envoy and the president and prime minister will not begin the process of resolving the political stiff rivalry between the two parties.

"I think as the Swahili proverb says that you cannot put two bulls in a pen with a single cow and expect harmony," Wamwere said.

He said previous attempts at resolving the impasse have failed to yield positive results.

"The fact is that we have had meetings between our leaders and important personalities from the rest of the world before. We even had Obama come here when he was a senator and when he left there was plenty of bad blood between him and the leaders," he said.

Wamwere said it was about time Kenyans found a home-based solution to the problems.

"What I am trying to say is that where our friends from outside can assist, it is unlikely that they would help us resolve a conflict unless we ourselves have decided to resolve that conflict," he said.

Wamwere said Kenyan politicians have helped fuel tribal hatred for political success.

"Ethnic conflicts in this country, even political conflict are something that our leaders thrive on. Our political leaders are reaping from this very violence; they are benefiting and they get elected precisely because they are ethnic warlords," Wamwere said.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was instrumental in the formation of Kenya's coalition last April to end post-election violence that killed at least 1,300 people.

Some Kenyans have expressed displeasure after members of the coalition started squabbling after a raft of new corruption allegations began unfolding.

Meanwhile, Jonnie Carson said tensions between political parties in Kenya over issues like who should be the leader of government business committee in parliament probably reflected what he described as the tip of the political iceberg.

He added that there are other likely tensions existing below the surface, which he said could lead to a disastrous return to unrest.

President Kibaki's office later released a statement saying he informed Carson that the unity government is committed to reforms and is willing to seek consensus ahead of Kenya's new constitution.

In another development, Kenya's Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) began working Monday after nine of its commissioners were sworn in. The new team, which is expected to take over the offices of the embattled Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), will have its first major task of conducting by-elections in two constituencies. The country has been without an electoral body following the disbandment of the ECK last December.

The new team faces the hurdle of overseeing electoral reforms in the country and restoring public confidence within two years. The lack of an electoral body has left the country with an electoral vacuum that could precipitate a constitutional crisis in case the presidency falls vacant.

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