'Tragic game of musical chairs'

Kenya’s political crisis has deepened, with 22 politicians refusing to accept posts in a reconstituted government, and foreign envoys adding their voices to demands for a snap election.

Kenya has been without an effective government since President Mwai Kibaki fired his Cabinet three weeks ago. Parliament remains suspended.
The action followed Kibaki’s humiliating defeat in a referendum on a new constitution.

Last week, Kibaki named a new Cabinet, dropping seven former ministers he had branded “rebels” for opposing his draft document. He appointed some of his former enemies in the Kenya African National Union to senior positions, a move critics said was designed to stifle opposition. But the Kanu members spurned the appointments, as did many politicians previously regarded as Kibaki supporters.

The president then included a group of staunch allies, and retained a core of elderly politicians from his Kikuyu ethnic group that Kenyans have disparagingly referred to as the “Mount Kenya Mafia”, because they hail from his home province.

The country remains divided along ethnic lines, with human rights groups fearing a rerun of the clashes that killed hundreds of people in the 1990s.

In surrounding himself with a “cabal” of “old friends”, said Liberal Democratic Party leader Raila Odinga, Kibaki wished to protect his fragile leadership ahead of the 2007 general election. Odinga—one of the sacked ministers—vowed to fight for power through his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), an alliance of parties opposed to the president.

A defiant former planning minister, Anyan’g Nyong’o—a leading light in the ODM—told the Mail & Guardian: “We are not sad at being excluded from the government; in fact, we are happy! We had said we were ashamed to serve Kibaki, and we still mean it. The tide has turned. The result of the referendum showed that the people are with us. Kibaki is panicking because he knows it.”

The chairperson of Kenya’s Human Rights Commission, Makau Mutua, dismissed the new Cabinet as “one of the most colossal blunders in the history of Kenyan politics”.

In a statement filled with cutting criticism of Kibaki, Mutua said he had revealed that he was a “grossly unskilled man” by reappointing ministers perceived as corrupt and incompetent sycophants.

It was a “tragic game of musical chairs” that had plunged Kenya into “darkness”, he said.

Foreign diplomats in Kenya maintained that the only way to avert bloodshed was to hold a snap election “to test the will of the people”.

In a speech at Jamhuri (Independence) Day celebrations on Monday, the president promised to begin “consultations” on a new constitution.

Before his address, a local Islamic leader introduced Kibaki as “His Excellency, President Daniel Toroitich [Moi]”. The crowd burst into laughter. Kibaki squirmed. It was further embarrassment for an embattled president who has swiftly lost his grip since defeating Moi in 2002.

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