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Reform Agenda Lagging as Kenya Enters New Year


Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (C) and Kenyan PM Raila Odinga (R) greeting the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo (L), ahead of their meeting in Nairobi, 05 Nov 2009.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (C) and Kenyan PM Raila Odinga (R) greeting the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo (L), ahead of their meeting in Nairobi, 05 Nov 2009.

At this time next year, Kenyans are hoping for a new constitution, implemented under reformed government institutions. When it comes to politicians, though, Kenyans are long-accustomed to disappointment.

In May 2008, a few months after a disputed presidential poll threw the nation into weeks of political anarchy, Kenya's leaders agreed to a long-term reform agenda designed to keep such violence from breaking out again. A year-and-a-half later, many of these reforms are lagging behind schedule as critics question whether the government has the will to tackle them. For VOA, Alan Boswell looks back at the progress reforms in Kenya have made as 2009 nears its end.

The political violence shocked many around the world. In region known for its volatility, Kenya had a reputation for being a dependable oasis of stability.

As the post-election chaos spread, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan quickly flew in as the head of a delegation tasked with brokering a peace between the two presidential rivals and their supporters. Finally, after weeks of intense negotiation, the two principals agreed to a political power-sharing deal which put incumbent and declared winner of the poll Mwai Kibaki as president and his rival Raila Odinga as prime minister.

With the worst of the crisis temporarily resolved, the Annan-mediated talks turned to a national reform agenda to be implemented under the coalition government to ensure the violence did not return during the next electoral round - if not before.

Finally, in May, after a number of rounds of talks, the two parties agreed to an intensive reform process to address the societal rifts nakedly exposed by the ethnic-based slaughters.

Concluding a visit to Kenya this month to review the progress made under the reform deal he negotiated, Annan commended Kenya for the steps it had taken to correct certain ills. But he warned Kenyan politicians against a short memory span, saying that many were acting like they had forgotten the destructive course of events that had led the state to the brink of apparent collapse.

"When you see the discussions and moves of some of the politicians and their supporters, it's as if 2007, 2008 never occurred or had no lessons for us. And I think that if we are going to have a peaceful Kenya as we move towards 2012, this attitude needs to be nipped in the bud," said Annan.

Now, at the end of 2009, with most of the agreed-to reforms lingering in task forces and official commissions, the country is already looking forward to its next national poll in 2012. As campaign season draws increasingly near, many are concerned that the nation will soon lose its focus on the reforms.

Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict and co-head of the Kenya for Change forum, says that Kenya's leaders have yet to show that they can move beyond juvenile political games to address these concerns with the seriousness the situation demands.

"We seem to be like in a car stuck in a rut, where we keep professing on having motion, but there is no actual movement. That's why we have formed commissions, we have this, we have that, but in terms of the actual commitment and will to move the reforms forward, it does not seem to be," he said.

The reforms agreed to included a review process leading to a new constitutional referendum, creating a new electoral oversight body, the systematic reform of the police and judicial institutions, prosecuting those responsible for organizing post-election criminal acts, a renewed fight against corruption in the civil service, land reform, and curbing youth unemployment rates.

Out of the bunch, the constitutional review process is perhaps most on track - but also perhaps most urgent and fundamental. A designated committee has released a public draft for debate, but the two power-sharing parties are still at odds over key provisions.

Most notable is the split over whether executive powers should fall primarily to a popularly-elected president or a parliamentary-chosen prime minister. A pair of South African advisors to the constitution has warned of the potentially devastating consequences of holding a referendum without achieving political consensus first.

The government has publicly admitted its failure to create a local process to try those suspected of post-election crimes. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has indicated he will likely be targeting two or three top Kenyan officials, but absent a local tribunal, lesser offenders are facing little risk of prosecution.

A task force on police reforms has completed its work and submitted its recommendations to the president, who has pledged to act on the recommendations. The controversial police head Hussein Ali was sacked in September, but critics say not much else has changed. Little movement has taken place towards judicial reforms, despite a final report issued from a created task force.

The anti-corruption fight recently received a boost from the forced resignation of its much-criticized head, after the nation's parliament refused to accept his re-appointment. But the anti-corruption agency continues to have no prosecuting powers of its own.

Substantive land reform remains elusive, and the youth employment "Kazi Kwa Vijana" program is struggling from a funding shortfall. Hundreds of thousands remain in internally displaced camps, and a national reconciliation commission has yet to start its work and suffers from serious credibility questions.

Mr. Annan and his team say that time is not on Kenya's side to address these areas of concern. Accompanying him to the East African nation, Graca Machel, wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, warned that the upcoming year will critically test Kenya's resolve.

"The window of opportunity to complete the reforms is not endless. It's necessary to speed up the pace to make sure that we don't miss the deadline of 2010 to complete the fundamental reforms," said Machel.

At this time next year, Kenyans are hoping for a new constitution, implemented under reformed government institutions. When it comes to politicians, though, Kenyans are long-accustomed to disappointment.

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