/ 23 July 2004

Kenya in a political void

The prospect of more violence in Kenya has escalated following the call for another rally, in Mombasa on July 24, in support of constitutional reform.

Supporters of President Mwai Kibaki have threatened the organisers of the rally with “unfortunate consequences” should it go ahead.

At least two people were killed and several others arrested during demonstrations earlier this month.

At the heart of the schism is a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Kibaki’s National Alliance of Kenya party and Raila Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) before the 2002 election.

The election pact created the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), with Kibaki as president-elect and the future prime minister coming from the ranks of the LDP.

In terms of the Constitution, Kibaki is all-powerful. Section 25(1) says: “… every person who holds office in the service of the Republic of Kenya shall hold that office during the pleasure of the president”.

But under the draft Constitution, the president cannot simply fire his prime minister at his “pleasure”; he would be compelled to get consensus from the National Assembly.

The prime minister will have significant powers, being head of the government and the Cabinet chairperson.

Kibaki’s supporters argue that the draft Constitution relegates the president to a ceremonial position.

Now the factions of Narc, which ousted Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya African National Union (Kanu) 18 months ago, are doing battle with each other.

No wonder shopkeeper Subri Shah thought it was April Fools’ Day when he opened his newspaper in Nairobi last week. “My brother laughed when I checked the date on the front page,” he said.

But the story that Kenyans awoke to, as army helicopters buzzed their capital and policemen armed with rungus (large wooden clubs) patrolled the streets, was no joke.

A survey found that opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta of Kanu — a party that under Moi had persecuted its rivals and plundered the economy — was the nation’s “number one choice” for president. Kibaki came a distant third.

The Steadman Group — an international research company — questioned Kenyans across the country about the government’s performance.

The survey damned the rulers.

Only 6% of respondents thought the government was “very committed” to its pre-election pledges of creating jobs, fighting crime and corruption, and delivering a new Constitution. A staggering 36% believed Kibaki’s Cabinet was “not committed at all” to these promises.

The government moved fast to condemn Steadman’s research. A spokesperson told the Mail & Guardian: “This survey is incredible … it is not a true reflection of the will of Kenyans because it was conducted only in urban areas. President Kibaki has much support in rural areas … We do not attach any importance to this exercise.”

And it remained a fact, The Standard newspaper’s political analyst Kwendo Opanga commented, that Kenyatta had done little to distinguish himself as leader of the official opposition: “Uhuru’s stock is up because the president is dull and uninspiring.”

But, just as Kenyans voted for Narc simply as a conduit to Kanu’s exit, they now appear willing to ignore Kenyatta’s flaws.

“South Africa was lucky; the people had [Nelson] Mandela and [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu to lead them. We have no one like this; we have no moral leaders because they were all part of Moi’s system,” Shah said.

In a surprisingly frank comment, a key figure in the Narc administration admitted: “It is true; no one [in the coalition] can be called ‘clean’. But who can we give power to? Where are the young politicians in Kenya — the 35- to 45-year-olds who are not dirtied by our past?

“There is no one; there is a political void in this country.”

Kibaki himself served as Moi’s vice-president and chief of the State Security Council in the 1980s. Even Odinga, leader of the LDP, is a former Kanu man. He left the party only when Moi chose Kenyatta over him as his successor.

To compound Kenyan despair, donor countries have threatened to shut off funding over corruption in the new government.

The most vocal has been the British High Commissioner in Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, who told a recent private lunch: “We never expected corruption to be vanquished overnight. We all implicitly recognised that some would be carried over to the new era. We hoped it would not be rammed in our faces.

“Evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a desperate sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes.”