African business, politics and lifestyle
Hopes disappear of new era in Kenya
Long-suffering Kenyans have once again had their hopes dashed of a new era of political progress freed from the depredations of their notoriously venal politicians, after a wave of high-level corruption scandals and factional squabbling inside the government.
President Mwai Kibaki first won power in 2002 riding a wave of popular support for his promises to end the corruption and misgovernment of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. Disillusion soon set in with massive graft scandals that mirrored the worst of the Moi years tarnishing Kibaki’s image as a reformer.
Then hopes rose again last April when a “Grand Coalition” was formed between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to end two months of brutal ethnic bloodshed after a disputed election, in which at least 1,300 people died and 300,000 were forced from their homes. Despite the formation of the biggest and most expensive government since independence to pander to the interests of both sides in the election dispute, there was optimism that a wind of change was blowing after decades of abuse by politicians pursuing only narrow tribal and regional interests as well as lining their own pockets.
Kenyans sick of the old political class had swept away more than 60 percent of parliament in a powerful vote for change. The new law-makers were said to be of a different cloth, more professional and educated and interested in the welfare of the nation .
Early signs were promising with Kibaki and Odinga reported to have struck up a strong and productive relationship and cooperating on policies that brushed aside the protests and pressures of powerful political pressure groups.
But the early optimism generated by the post-election settlement has dissipated less than a year later. Squabbles between Kibaki’s PNU party and Odinga’s ODM, who accuse the president’s close supporters of bypassing them to force through controversial decisions they oppose, are so bad that a new 12-member committee has been set up to mediate within the government. The MPs, already among the world’s best paid, refused to back down on voting themselves fat tax-free allowances despite heavy criticism and pushed through a media bill seen both at home and outside Kenya as a blatant infringement of the rights of the country’s vibrant press – a powerful democratic force.
But worst of all, the recent revelation of a string of scandals ranging from the tourist authority to the theft of millions of dollars of petroleum products are a clear sign that not much has changed. The sheer scale of the accusations of graft has shocked many Kenyans. The most damaging is over the diversion of precious reserves of maize, Kenya’s staple food, to bogus millers while almost a third of the population are facing famine because of a long drought. As myriad scandals came to light, the heads of the cereals, petroleum and tourism authorities were all sacked. “In one year only, Kenyans have been treated to a magnitude of corruption they have never seen,” said Okong’o O’Mogeni of the Law Society of Kenya.
Foreign analysts say the coalition government is likely to survive its many disputes and will probably last until the next elections scheduled in 2012. None of the parties benefitting from the bloated coalition government are thought likely to want to precipitate a political crisis before then and much manoeuvring is focused on who will make a run for the presidency when Kibaki has to step down after his second term. The relative stability, unexpected when the post-election crisis ended in April, has encouraged positive forecasts for Kenya’s growth by 2010 in contrast to many other frontier markets.
But when will Kenyans get the honest politicians so many of them yearn for, so that this country can develop its full potential as a gateway to a wide swathe of central and eastern Africa and meet the government’s goal of turning it into a prosperous, well-governed country by 2012?