African business, politics and lifestyle
Creaking coalition fails to impress Kenyans
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.