Kenya coalition crumbles

The quest for a permanent political settlement in Kenya ran into trouble again this week with the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) announcing that it is pulling out of talks on the formation of a coalition government.

Talks on the composition of a coalition cabinet have been dragging on for a month. The latest impasse was provoked by the ruling party and its allies’ refusal to make any concessions to the opposition on the allocation of key ministries.

The growing schism has triggered tension that could spark renewed violence.

The effect of the collapse of the cabinet talks was felt immediately in opposition strongholds in Nairobi’s slums and in the western town of Kisumu, where youths engaged the police in running street battles.

Anticipating the possibility of renewed bloodshed, the United States, Canada and the European Union warned on Wednesday that they would be forced to take drastic action against any party deemed to be undermining the power-sharing agreement signed by the ODM and Party of National Unity (PNU) in February.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned on Wednesday that time had run out for the opposition and government to form a cabinet.

“It is important that the cabinet be formed without further delay ... should the peace accord not be implemented, then the US will form its own judgement and act accordingly,” Rice said in a statement clearly aimed at Kibaki’s perceived recalcitrance.

As the US warned of imminent action, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Edward Wood, took on Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, demanding to know what powers President Mwai Kibaki was ready to concede.

Wood told Musyoka: “The key to power sharing requires that both sides be ready to make concessions. It does not mean individuals demanding of their respective party leaders that they retain certain positions or they receive certain position.”

The opposition accuses Kibaki of being so beholden to the whims of the power brokers in the government and the business community that he is ignoring the implementation of the peace agreement which would require concessions at their expense.

On Monday Kibaki declined to accede to the ODM’s demand for a balanced division of the cabinet portfolios and it now appears he might be willing to go it alone.

Alarmed aid donors have already warned that aid cuts could be looming and have made it clear that the disbursement of development aid hinges on the formation of a coalition government.

Canada has already announced the suspension of $525-million in bilateral aid, while the European Union, through its country representative Eric van der Linden, said it would not be disbursing aid to Kenya unless the government shows genuine interest in resolving the current political impasse.

An opposition Member of Parliament, George Khaniri, told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday that the donors are unanimous that the partial cabinet, as it is now constituted, is illegitimate.

“As soon as the National Accord and Reconciliation law came into force last month, the president should have dissolved the partial cabinet he had formed prior to signing the national reconciliation agreement. The distribution of power is supposed to be equal,” Khaniri said.

At a press conference this week ODM parliamentary group secretary Ababu Namwamba reiterated the position that the party had already made a major concession and would not cede more ground to the president’s party.

“We have made it clear that the reason why we conceded on our earlier position that we won this election and we wanted to form a government is that we wanted to return this country to peace and normalcy. We conceded an election we believe we won,” Namwamba said.

The opposition is angry that it is being allocated what it perceives to be peripheral ministries. The collapse of the talks was precipitated by Kibaki’s reluctance to cede the ministries of local government, foreign affairs, energy and public service to the ODM.

PNU legislator Mwangi Kiunjuri defended the president on Wednesday, saying that his party was forced to hold on to the ministries because ODM leaders had vested interests in running them.

“In the ministry of local government we are aware that some strong supporters of ODM have vested interests, while in the ministry of energy, some [ODM leadership] members have cases in court involving the same ministry,” said Kiunjuri.

As the ODM’s decision to pull out of cabinet talks took its toll on the country’s fragile stability, a PNU meeting chaired by Musyoka hinted at the possibility of a fresh presidential poll.

“In the unlikely event that nothing really moves and the president decides that it is in the best interest of this country to dissolve the current Parliament and call for fresh elections, the parliamentary group will stand by him,” he said.

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