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Kenyan President's Unification Efforts Cause Turmoil - 2003-12-31

A storm of controversy is being generated by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's recent statement that the 15 political parties making up his coalition government are now obsolete.

The headline in one of Kenya's major daily newspapers screams out, "Is there a plot to topple Kibaki?" while another speaks of government officials getting rid of the files of parties belonging to the coalition government.

These are the latest reactions to President Kibaki's statement Monday that the political parties comprising Kenya's National Rainbow Coalition government stopped existing once they joined the coalition and have been merged in one.

He said the names of the 15 political parties in the coalition government are no longer officially registered.

The president declared he and his coalition government stand for unity, in apparent reference to the power struggles and infighting between parties in the government.

Analysts say the subject is a touchy. Political parties joined forces last year, specifically to defeat former President Daniel arap Moi and the ruling Kenya African National Union government. KANU had ruled Kenya since the country's independence in 1963.

Since last December's election, infighting has increased, as prominent politicians have been jostling to create and fill the newly created position of prime minister. Also controversial is the re-distribution of powers between the president and the future prime minister.

One of the key coalition players, the Liberal Democratic Party, has been particularly critical of President Kibaki.

Assistant Labor Minister and LDP official Peter Odoyo says he welcomes President Kibaki's aim of bringing unity into the government, but disagrees with the method.

"To try and forcibly encourage people to wind up may not necessarily achieve the unity that we are looking for," said Mr. Odoyo.

Among those who side with the president is Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services Minister Najib Balala, who is also an LDP member. He told The Daily Nation, "That is the reality. We were all elected to Parliament through the NARC umbrella, not any other party".

Economic analyst and commentator Robert Shaw says President Kibaki's unification moves are likely to bring more division and turmoil to the fractious government.

"At face value, the statement is very significant, or appears to be because, basically, it is saying to people you either line up as one or else you go your own way," he said.

Mr. Shaw says the infighting is diverting the government's attention from broader, more serious issues, such as how to revitalize the country's ailing economy.

But he says it is too early to tell what the long-term impact of the president's controversial move will be.