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Kenya PM Confident Power Dispute Will Be Resolved

Kenyans demonstrate on 17 Feb 2010 to vent their anger at a coalition government falling apart over graft allegations and its inability to further pledged reforms

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga's party has declared a cabinet boycott within the nation's coalition government, but the prime minister said Wednesday that he is confident the power dispute will be resolved. Aides to President Mwai Kibaki have dismissed the row as a fabricated crisis.

On Tuesday, a close ally of the prime minister announced that Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party would be boycotting cabinet meetings until the current quarrel between the governing partners is settled.

Under a power-sharing deal following the outbreak of election violence in early 2008, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga are to jointly head the nation's government, through an equitable balance of power. Tensions between the two top officials have remained edgy, but the country has since maintained a tenuous stability.

But on Monday a deputy to the prime minister read a statement declaring a "crisis" in relations within the unity government following President Kibaki's move of annulling two suspensions handed down by Mr. Odinga against a couple of cabinet ministers. The two politicians, neither allies with the PM, head ministries caught up in a pair of embarrassing corruption scandals involving the loss of millions of dollars.

On Tuesday an advisor to the president accused Mr. Odinga's party of "grandstanding" and of creating a crisis in "an attempt to derail the country."

Kivutha Kibwana, a constitutional advisor in the office of the president, told reporters the dispute is a guise for other political motives.

"Some of the people who are advising the prime minister are doing so out of ignorance and do not mean well for our country," said the advisor. "They are the ones creating a crisis. The grandstanding and fomenting of a crisis is a well-organized plan that started three weeks ago. Indeed, we are aware that Kofi Annan [former U.N. Secretary General] was invited to come to Kenya to settle a dispute, way before there was any dispute," said Kibwana.

Mr. Odinga left the country on official business to Japan on Sunday night before his deputy declared the "crisis." Speaking in Tokyo Wednesday, the PM expressed confidence that the coalition would be able to resolve its differences peacefully.

Two recent corruption scandals brought both coalition partners under pressure to shake up the nation's bloated cabinet.

Millions of dollars meant to provide free primary education to Kenyan children were embezzled in a widespread scheme that has revealed a brazen culture of graft within the education ministry. Britain and then the U.S. have announced that they are withholding further funds from the program until the scandal is resolved.

In a separate scam, an independent audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers leaked last week showed that over $26 million was lost in a broad scheme in which well-connected individuals bought maize at subsidized rates and sold them into the market at exorbitant profit margins. The imported maize was to help feed starving Kenyans.

Two aides in Mr. Odinga's office were forced to step aside on Saturday for being named in the maize report. Later that day, President Kibaki announced that six additional officials were being suspended pending investigations into corruption allegations.

Then on Sunday Prime Minister Odinga announced that he was suspending Agriculture Minister William Ruto and Education Minister Sam Ongeri until their role in the loss funds could be investigated. But Mr. Kibaki shortly thereafter put out a statement nullifying the move, saying Mr. Odinga does not have the power to force a minister to vacate office.

Two members of Odinga's ODM party leadership team announced that they will not participate in the announced boycott. The two, one of whom is a minister the prime minister attempted to suspend, have become fierce critics of the PM within his own party, another sign that the 2008 power-sharing arrangement could be deteriorating.

The election violence killed more than 1,200 and left hundreds of thousands displaced.

Analysts fear that the nation - long seen as a bastion of calm in the volatile region - remains highly susceptible to instability if the unity government collapses.