Kenya: Coalition cracks threaten stability

NAIROBI (IRIN) – Deepening rifts in Kenya’s coalition government and a failure to press ahead with promised reforms have given rise to fears that the country could slide back into the kind of violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives and forced about half a million people from their homes after elections in December 2007.

"Kenyans are not only growing far apart but also frustrated and angry at the way politicians are playing a game of Russian roulette with their future; the pent-up anger will erupt with volcanic ferocity," Wafula Okumu, a senior research fellow in the African Security Analysis Programme of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN.

"Admittedly, the coalition is currently under some stress and this is a source of worry for us in the humanitarian community," Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Kenya, told IRIN on 6 April.

"My hope is that the [country’s] leadership will recognise that as imperfect as it is, the coalition is a useful instrument in pushing the required reform agenda; it is not an end in itself."

Chuma was speaking on the day that Martha Karua, previously a key ally of President Mwai Kibaki, resigned as justice and constitutional affairs minister after the head of state appointed seven judges without her knowledge.

Karua, who plans to run for president in 2012, showed no signs of quitting the political arena: "I will now be able to totally disagree with anything that is anti-reform."

Changes to the judiciary were among a host of reforms agreed by Kibaki and his election rival Raila Odinga during mediation talks led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2008.

Meanwhile, Odinga, the prime minister in the coalition government Annan steered into being, has become increasingly critical of the head of state, describing his leadership as “primitive”.

The 7 April departure from government of an assistant minister – in a country where resignations on principle are virtually unheard of – marked another blow for the coalition’s stability. Danson Mungatana left complaining that corruption and anti-reform forces were frustrating those determined to bring change.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
The post-election violence in early 2008 caused deaths of more than 1,00 Kenyans and displaced hundreds of thousands of others

What makes the prospect of the partnership’s collapse all the more alarming are NGO reports that several leading politicians, notably those representing constituencies in the Rift Valley, which bore the brunt of the violence last year, have armed and trained militia units.

According to Chuma, the UN is working with the government to establish the extent of this phenomenon.

"A committee has already been set up, with three members from the Office of the President and two from the UN to develop the feasibility of addressing this issue of militias," he said. "Hopefully a rapid assessment will follow to establish the scale of militia activity in the country."

Crossroads

“Kenya is at a crossroads,” Annan declared at a meeting convened in Geneva on 30 March to review progress since the signing of a National Accord in February 2008. “The time to act is now,” he added. Neither Kibaki nor Odinga travelled to Switzerland for the gathering.

"There is no disagreement on what needs to be done. The parties have already agreed on a blueprint for building a more equitable, prosperous and just society. That blueprint is found in the reform package agreed in the National Dialogue," he added.

This package includes constitutional, legal and institutional reform; tackling poverty and inequity and development imbalances; tackling unemployment, particularly among the youth; consolidating national cohesion and unity; undertaking land reform; and addressing transparency, accountability and impunity.

Annan warned that Kenya’s situation had implications far beyond its borders.

"The politicisation of ethnicity, non-adherence to the rule of law, corruption and the abuse of power, and inequitable development, exist in other parts of Africa and across the globe… I believe this is one reason why the world is paying such attention to the way Kenya grapples with these issues."

According to Okumu of ISS, these issues “have slipped off the radar screen”.

"Future democratisation, peace and justice will depend on how the Kenyan nation is forged on the values of mutual understanding, trust, and respect. There must be a national dialogue to openly discuss issues of historical grievances, ethnophobia, tribalism, and nationalism,” he said.

"A new election must be held within a year to put in power a government with a popular mandate and legitimacy to undertake the task of nation-building," Okumu suggested.

"At this critical juncture, when we are facing a global financial crisis, Kenya needs a government that is visionary, committed, disciplined, and dedicated to serving the people; not one that is driven by survival on the backs of the suffering population," he said.

The UN’s Chuma also noted there was much more work to be done.


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A camp for the displaced in Eldoret, Rift Valley Province: Deepening rifts in the coalition government has raised fears the country could slide back into the kind of violence that displaced hundreds of thousands of people

"The biggest achievement in 2008 was the stopping of the violence of course, but that alone is not enough without the far-reaching reforms, raising danger that the momentum may be lost.

"We hope that the Geneva meeting rekindled that sense of urgency in getting the politicians to look at the common good and meeting the hopes and aspirations of Kenyans,” he added.

As Annan himself noted in Geneva, “the average person [in Kenya] finds it hard to comprehend why the changes, some of them very fundamental, are not taking place at a faster pace”.

Alice Wambui, 38, a mother of three and resident of Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, said: "This coalition has not met my expectations; none of the pledges they made to us have been fulfilled: the price of maize flour remains high, my business stall was looted then destroyed during the election chaos, hence I have no reliable means of livelihood. I now hassle doing casual work in order to feed my family."

Joseph Wanyama, 40, a watchman in a city estate, told IRIN: "I am disappointed in our politicians; they made promises which they promptly forgot once they started earning their huge salaries. Look at me, I walk about 10km every day to get to work, the price of maize flour has not come down, I can barely keep my children in school, let alone feed them, yet my salary has remained the same even after the violence; there has to be a way these leaders of ours can help us."