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Cabinet Reshuffle Predicted in Kenya - 2002-03-19

Political analysts in Kenya are predicting a cabinet reshuffle following a major political shake-up at a ruling party conference Monday.

Kenyan Vice President George Saitoti's political future is in doubt, following his sudden decision to step down from competition for party posts at Monday's ruling KANU party conference. Many observers say they believe President Daniel arap Moi ordered Mr. Saitoti to step aside at a meeting earlier in the day.

At the conference, KANU delegates chose a new leadership to steer the party into elections later this year. Their choices were important because President Moi is constitutionally obliged to step down at the end of this term.

Time is fast running out for President Moi to select his successor. For the past 13 years, Vice President Saitoti has been the president's apparent heir. But Monday's events indicate that President Moi's allegiance may have shifted to a group of younger politicians, nicknamed the Young Turks.

Political commentator Kwendo Opanga predicts there will now be a cabinet reshuffle to remove Vice President Saitoti.

"Right now we have a vice president who does not have a root, so to speak, in the party," he said. "He can't mobilize within the party. That puts him at a great disadvantage if he is to be in the presidential race. I think the message is that the KANU [ruling party] establishment does not regard him as one of the successors to President Moi. So there will be a reshuffle and possibly another pointer to which way the KANU establishment wants the Moi succession to go."

Mr. Opanga says President Moi might not even name a replacement vice president.

"If for instance something were to happen to him, the vice president would have to take charge. And as things stand now it appears that the KANU establishment does not want Saitoti," he said. "Secondly, if he appoints somebody right now as vice president, most people will see that person as being anointed heir and it is possible that we will have two centers of power in the country - because fellows will be more inclined to pledge loyalty, to invest in the future president than the outgoing president."

After the 1997 elections, President Moi kept the post of vice president vacant for 14 months before re-appointing Mr. Saitoti.