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Kenya Cabinet Reshuffle Changes Presidential Race

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (file)
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (file)

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday reshuffled cabinet ministers they saw as a threat to their own political futures. The biggest target was Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo one of the top legal experts and outspoken supporter of the International Criminal Court process.

President Mwai Kibaki on Monday moved four ministers aligned with his Party of National Unity (PNU), while his grand coalition partner, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, replaced one minister from his own Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

Political observers say the reshuffling of the cabinet is a big boost to two politicians - Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto - accused before the ICC of perpetuating post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 and 2008. The two suspects now have one of their allies, Eugene Wamalwa, appointed as Justice Minister, replacing the outspoken Mutula Kilonzo, who will be in charge of education.

Kenyan political analyst Adam said the reshuffling was initiated from the president's side of the coalition government and it had to do with solidifying support ahead of the upcoming general election in 2013.

Oloo says the most significant change took place in the Justice Ministry, controlled by President Kibaki's PNU party.

“Since they were in control of that ministry, it belongs to Kibaki's side of the coalition, they had to at the minimum to remove Mutula Kilonzo, because he was proving to be a bottleneck for them, and therefore they got in place someone who they clearly believe is loyalist and who is ready to play political ball with them,” he said.

Kenya's Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo (2010 file photo)
Kenya's Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo (2010 file photo)

As Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, argued that the constitution forbids any ICC suspects from running for president, a swipe at Kenyatta and Ruto, who have both declared intentions to run.

Wamalwa, on the other hand, has been critical of the ICC process.

In handing over the portfolio to the newly appointed justice minister, Kilonzo joked that he would be safer in the position because he is part of the G7 - a coalition of parties aligned with President Kibaki.

“They will threaten you, intimidate you, they will harass you implement this document [constitution] its your future," he said. "Do not accept the harassment the political meanderings of the Gods of tribalism, be firm. At least you are lucky you belong to G7 which I don’t, you will have a smoother ride.”

Eugene Wamalwa praised his predecessor. He said he was well aware of the challenges ahead.

“His record as he walks out of this ministry today, we know he walks with his head held high, but I also walk in today well knowing the immense responsibility that this office places on my shoulders," he said. "Where Mutula has left we will pick up and we will move forward but without hesitation, without fear or favor, as a lawyer and as a lawmaker, my fidelity is to the law.”

In accepting the position, Wamalwa vowed to fight corruption. He did not mention how he would rule on a constitutional challenge to ICC suspects running for president, but it is clear that the two accused politicians now have a political supporter in the Justice Ministry.

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