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Infighting Increases Kenya's Political Troubles


Kenya's leaders remain divided over how to put together a coalition government as part of a power-sharing deal signed in February following December's disputed elections. But even if an acceptable list of ministers is agreed upon, the impasse has heightened doubts about the coalition's sustainability. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

Under February's agreement, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, set to take the newly-created position of prime minister, agreed to divide up the government's ministries on a 50-50 basis.

Now, a month-and-a-half since the agreement, the two are still unable to agree on who will control which ministries. Mr. Odinga is demanding that his party control an equal share of the more powerful ministries. President Kibaki, who had already appointed 17 ministers when the deal was signed, including the most-coveted jobs, has been unwilling to let them go.

The contested ministries include finance, foreign affairs, justice, local government, internal security, and roads. All of these are currently filled by powerful members of President Kibaki's Party of National Unity. Members of the party are concerned that with Mr. Odinga controlling key ministries, he could wrest control of the government.

Disputes have also resurfaced over whether the 50-50 arrangement applies to jobs other than ministers, including permanent secretaries, civil service positions, and directors of government agencies. Mr. Odinga's supporters say it will not be true power-sharing if these officials are all named by the president. The president's supporters warn that dividing them evenly between the rival parties would politicize the positions.

This week, Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement announced a suspension of negotiations. President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga say they are still committed to reaching a deal, but discussions have not resumed.

And the rhetoric has sharpened, with both sides raising the possibility of new elections if the talks fail, although few say this is a real possibility because the electoral apparatus responsible for December's disputed vote is still in place.

Foreign diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband have issued statements in recent days calling for an end to the impasse.

Pressure from the international community, both from regional leaders and Western donors, was widely seen as critical in securing February's deal.

Political scientist Katumanga Musambayi, of the University of Nairobi, says pressure may push the rivals to agree again.

"They really like the West so much," he said. "Many of them, including their businesses, are very seriously intertwined with international capital."

Others are more skeptical. Cyprian Nyamwamu is a leader of the National Civil Society Congress, a coalition of civil society groups in Kenya.

"The media has kept saying those statements are putting pressure on Kibaki, they are not," said Nyamwamu. "Mwai Kibaki is somebody who has a very huge capacity to ignore public opinion. He focuses very much on what serves him best and he asks himself what are they going to do? He's saying you Americans and you Britons, go jump over the next bridge."

Even if the sides are able to agree on a coalition, the dispute has raised serious concern about how long such an arrangement can survive. Musambayi is among those who question its viability.

"If you can't even implement a very, very small accord, what are the chances that when you get to form a Cabinet one way or another you'll even join together," said Musambayi. "What you're talking about is a case where Raila sees himself as the agent of change and the other guys are trying to block that process. So you'll have a paralysis after maybe the second year. That is if they're very, very lucky."

Some critics, like Cyprian Nyamwamu, claim that President Kibaki has never been interested in truly sharing power.

"Kibaki is busy maximizing his interests and planning his succession very carefully," said Nyamwamu. "They want to end up with a government that does not work so that the PNU [Party of National Unity] side can throw out ODM at an appropriate time."

ODM member of parliament Ababu Namwamba is among those who have raised the possibility of new elections. But he is optimistic about the possibility of cooperation between the two sides once there is a government.

"I think any coalition government is by its very nature a monumental challenge," said Namwamba. "But I'm sure we would be in a position to negotiate around those challenges. At the end of the day, all this grandstanding is going to calm down and then even Kibaki himself, I believe he will reach a point where he will realize that his legacy is more important than satisfying the hardliners around him."

Meanwhile, the delay has set off protests in Nairobi's Kibera slum and the western city of Kisumu, both opposition strongholds. Residents of Kibera have been tearing up a section of the Nairobi-Kisumu railroad, and extra police have been deployed to these areas as well as the volatile Rift Valley region.

The incidents have recalled the turmoil that followed December's elections, which resulted in some 1,200 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands, and have provided a reminder of the potential consequences if the country's tenuous power-sharing arrangement falls apart.