/ 6 April 2009

Kenya’s fragile government loses justice minister

Kenya’s fragile coalition government lost its first minister on Monday, a day after talks to heal rifts within the near-defunct alliance collapsed in acrimony.

Justice Minister Martha Karua resigned from the government formed just more than a year ago saying her position was undermined by media reports that President Mwai Kibaki had appointed judges last week without consulting her.

Karua, who has already announced plans to run for the presidency in 2012, has been critical of the east African country’s judiciary and Chief Justice Evans Gicheru. Kibaki has since given his full backing to Gicheru.

”My position as a minister is untenable following recent events,” she told reporters.

Karua has been a key Kibaki supporter and was in the team that thrashed out the power sharing deal between the president’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) that ended weeks of bloodshed in 2008.

But analysts say her fierce criticism of the judiciary and frequent calls for government reforms have driven a wedge between her and other Kibaki supporters, who threatened to bring a censure motion against her last month.

Analysts say she had also hoped to be rewarded for years of loyal service to Kibaki with the post of deputy prime minister when the government was formed last April, but the position went to Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president.

Graft crusade continues
Karua said she would pursue her reform crusade as a member of Parliament and fight against graft that is widely viewed as a major obstacle to growth in east Africa’s biggest economy.

”I will support what is positive and reform-oriented, but I’ll now be able to totally disagree with anything that is anti-reform, anything that points towards opaqueness, corruption and lack of transparency,” she said.

Kibaki agreed to a union government with ODM’s Raila Odinga in February 2008 to end weeks of ethnic fighting that engulfed Kenya when Kibaki was declared winner of a presidential poll.

The deal stopped the violence that killed about 1 300 people but the government has become unpopular with many Kenyans, angry that its two leaders are wrangling about power while 10-million people face starvation and hardship.

Kibaki and Odinga split ministries between their parties, but critics say it merely bought off the politicians who had led the fighting by distributing lucrative government positions.

A weekend retreat at a luxury safari lodge to repair the shaky alliance collapsed after the two disagreed on the agenda.

In a full-page advert in Monday’s papers, PNU said it wanted to discuss reforms aimed at improving the lives of Kenyans, but its ODM partner wanted power sharing issues on the table.

ODM leaders complain they have been cheated out of real power and want the unity agreement signed in April last year after talks led by Kofi Annan renegotiated.

”We were unable to agree on tackling the most pressing issues, and therefore the meeting collapsed,” the Sunday Nation quoted Odinga as saying. — Reuters