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Creaking coalition fails to impress Kenyans

March 11, 2009

                                                                                                                                                                      After just a year in power, how is Kenya’s coalition government doing? Well, to many in the East African nation it seems unimpressive and out of touch.

With corruption scandals mounting and his government reeling from public disapproval, President Mwai Kibaki called his first news conference in years — to talk about his wife.

To widespread bemusement,  he chose not to address national problems, but to rail against media stories that he had a second wife.

For many, the bizarre event symbolised a disconnect between leaders and people that is jeopardising a divided coalition government and fuelling disillusionment.

“Yeah, yeah. Who cares?” asks one woman in a camp for internal refugees, turning away from Kibaki on TV in a withering portrait by Kenya’s leading political cartoonist, Gado.

People complain the unity government of Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga is simply failing them.

“We are dying and being killed. We are being repressed and oppressed … And Kibaki talks about his personal life!” said commentator Keguro Macharia.

Some Kenyans predict the coalition will split. Others want a new election.

Yet with memories of last year’s post-election violence still raw, and given Kibaki’s survival of past crises, some analysts say the government will just limp along chaotically until a 2012 poll.

“It’s a horrible conundrum,” said a foreign diplomat in Nairobi. “Kenya obviously needs a fresh start, but that risks inviting in the demons again. The alternative is stagnation and paralysis for the next three years, which is sad.”

Civil society groups say the coalition government is guilty of runaway corruption in almost every ministry.

The government is further provoking the public by failing to take seriously accusations that security forces have killed hundreds of people illegally, critics say. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday in a protest against the alleged killings.

The disillusionment seems to have taken a generalised aspect beyond the usual tribal and party political lines.

“There is a revolutionary feeling,” anti-graft activist Mwalimu Mati told Reuters.

In one survey last month, when Kenyans were asked what was the coalition’s greatest achievement, 70 percent said none.

Another poll this week showed a third of Kenyans want a new election, although two-thirds also said they feared another round of violence at the next election.

Adding to the tense politics, Odinga’s wing of government — borne out of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement that says the Dec. 27 presidential election was stolen from it — says Kibaki’s side is riding roughshod over it.

Some members of Kibaki’s Party of National Unity have told ODM to get out of government if they do not agree with its appointments, statements and decisions.

Odinga is in a bind, seeing his reputation fall fast as he is part of a non-reforming, under-performing government, but loath to go back into opposition.

His claim to moral authority has been dented, too, by accusations that one of his men, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, was responsible for kickbacks and corruption. Ruto denies the charges.

Odinga’s frustration is obvious. After the murder of two rights activists last week, he even warned that Kenya was “hurtling towards failure as a state.”

Kibaki has stayed largely silent and above the fray.

Plenty of government ministers and parliamentarians openly acknowledge that much is wrong in Kenya right now, although they accuse critics of exaggerating the problem for political ends.

For now, Kenya’s common people, or “wanainchi” as they call themselves in Swahili, are pleading for more responsible government.


Dear Andrew,

I think you have characterised things perfectly. I suspect we are either pressed right up against or within spitting distance of the inflexion point. I think the Poll Numbers as per Steadman were 70% against the Coalition. I accept that Kenya appears to display a higher and wider swing between all out Euphoria and the depths of depression but I can only think of one Politician who was able to navigate a way through these types of numbers and that was the mercurial Tony Blair.

Kenyans today are informed in a manner that shows a near enough parabolic graph versus 10 years ago. Famine stalks the land, the coffers are empty [I know the IMF has offerred a $100m but really thats a finger in the dyke] and the People very restive. The Icelandic Government was overthrown with ice cream and toilet paper!

The Political dispensation looks the most fragile it ever has done and blissfully unaware.

Aly-Khan Satchu



That’s right on the mark. Zero achievement by the coalition so far. Only more corruption, nepotism, extrajudicial killings, corruption-induced famine and impunity. People displaced by post electoral violence are still living in camps.

But where did the rain start beating Kenya? Truth of the matter is – Kenyans voted for change in 2007 (Raila), but they were given more of the same (Kibaki) via rigging, with tacit approval of the U.S.

All that was premised on the fear that Raila wouldn’t go along with the Bush policy of renditions for counter-terrorism intelligence. Local U.S ambassador Ranneberger wasn’t too comfortable with overwhelming Muslim support for Raila.

As a result, the unpopular Kibaki forcefully hanged onto power, still wields more power in the coalition, and has used that leverage to drive the country further down. The current agenda is disposing national assets for massive kickbacks.

Posted by Job Wapili | Report as abusive

As long as Kenyan law makers keep getting wages more than what is paid to their counterparts in Europe, while 3/4 of the people are getting less than a dollar a day, nothing is going to change.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

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