/ 2 April 2008

Kenya’s political deadlock deepens

Kenya’s opposition on Wednesday accused the government of trying to spoil a power-sharing deal by seeking to vet new Cabinet ministers, a move that targets opposition politicians the government blames for post-election violence.

President Mwai Kibaki and opposition chief Raila Odinga are at odds over the shape and size of a coalition Cabinet created under a pact to solve a post-election crisis that degenerated into ethnic violence that killed more than 1 200 people.

The deal brokered by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan brought a sense of stability and a financial rebound to the East African nation, which saw the prospects of its economy — one of the brightest in Africa — seriously hampered by the violence.

But more than a month has passed since the deal that will make Odinga the prime minister, and many Kenyans are frustrated at the deadlock over the Cabinet.

It is supposed to be split roughly in half between Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Kibaki-allied parties.

Annan in a statement on Wednesday said he was ”seriously concerned by the failure to compose and announce the coalition government” and urged Kibaki and Odinga to ”come to definite decisions for the sake of the Kenyan nation”.

The sides are haggling over who gets what ministry, how big the Cabinet should be and in the latest contentious issue, the president’s assertion that he has the right to vet ministers based on their corruption records.

That, the opposition says, is meant to target ODM member William Ruto, whom many in Kibaki’s camp blame for engineering the killing of members of the president’s Kikuyu tribe in the Rift Valley after his disputed December 27 re-election.

”I think they should be the last people to have the audacity to talk about a clean government,” ODM politician Najib Balala told reporters, referring to ministers in Kibaki’s half-Cabinet who have been linked to corruption cases.

”Let me be clear that there will be no legitimate government formed without William Ruto.”

Ruto denies all wrongdoing, but has been dogged by a land-theft case that is working its way through Kenya’s courts. He is despised by Kibaki backers but has ODM’s support because he gave them the Rift Valley province — the largest chunk of voters.

”The main issue is that the president has point-blank refused to have Ruto and Anyang’ Nyong’o,” said a Kibaki-allied Cabinet aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Nyong’o is ODM secretary general, and in the crisis was the main spokesperson urging supporters to take to the streets despite a government ban on demonstrations. All the protests turned bloody, between rioting and an often-deadly police response.

Political analyst Macharia Gaitho warned that the vetting plan was a clear recipe for deadlock that could unsettle the current peace.

”The agreement explicitly states that ODM nominees appointed to the Cabinet will be appointed by the ODM leader, so there is no room for Kibaki to vet,” Gaitho said.

”So we are deadlocked on who gets in, because Raila would not want to be seen as taking dictation from Kibaki.” — Reuters