sponsored by

Peace in Kenya hangs in balance as leaders feud

Send a link to a friend

[March 19, 2010]  NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- A public feud between Kenya's prime minister and president, whose agreement two years ago to share power ended the country's worst violence since independence, has many of their compatriots worried that the bloodshed could resume if efforts by the U.S. and African powers fail to cool tensions.

Caption: Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga speaks at a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday. A public dispute between President Mwai Kibaki and Odinga, who is currently in Japan on a five-day visit, on how to tackle high-level corruption began last weekend and has intensified the last two days. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

HardwareRelations between the two leaders -- never strong to begin with -- broke down this week over the attempted dismissals of two Cabinet ministers accused of corruption. In the streets of Kenya's capital, dozens of protesters marched in front of Parliament on Wednesday, demanding an end to corruption and expressing worry about the friction between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

"It's definitely going to lead to violence because they are not working toward consensus," Polycarp Gordon Odhiambo, 37, the chief executive of a development group that works in a Nairobi slum, said as he walked among other protesters who held up signs saying "Kibaki Stop Protecting Thieves" and "The Issue is Corruption, Not Politics."

"From now on, anything can happen," added Laban Kanyanya Nyongesa, 29, a taxi driver who watched the rally from the edge of a park.

U.S. officials are working behind the scenes to get the two leaders to talk face-to-face and bring down tensions that could rupture the coalition.

The two leaders spoke over the phone late Wednesday during an "extremely cordial" conversation, Salim Lone, an adviser to Odinga said Thursday. The two plan to meet on Sunday, he said.

Tensions escalated last Saturday when Kibaki suspended eight government workers -- including two Odinga aides -- suspected of corruption. The next day, Odinga suspended two Cabinet ministers after audits of their ministries of agriculture and education uncovered high-level corruption. But Kibaki annulled those suspensions and has since said they were never valid because Odinga had not consulted with him as required under Kenya's power-sharing deal.

Moses Kuria, spokesman of Kibaki's Party of National Unity, said that if Odinga or ministers loyal to him withdraw from the government, the president can simply reconstitute the Cabinet. Legal scholars say such a move by Kibaki would be lawful. But it would risk sending angry Odinga supporters into the streets.

Fears of a return to violence are well founded, especially if the political stalemate goes on for many days, said Ben Sihanya, the dean of the University of Nairobi Law School. But, he said, Kenyans are also aware that they are under more scrutiny today -- by the International Criminal Court and others -- after the December 2007-February 2008 bloodshed.

"You cannot just start killing people," Sihanya said. "You cannot start burning things. People are being more careful than they were before."

After the December 2007 vote, Kibaki was quickly sworn in as president despite doubts from observers about the vote's fairness. Odinga supporters took to the streets and clashed with police. The violence took on an ethnic dimension as people were attacked with machetes and even bows and arrows based on their tribal identities. Whole neighborhoods were set ablaze.

[to top of second column]

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, a heavyweight negotiator acceptable to both sides, patched together the shaky coalition government to end the violence. Odinga has asked Annan to step in and mediate the current standoff. In a statement Thursday, Annan called on the two leaders to recommit to a collaborative spirit, to meet with each other and to fight corruption.

Top U.S. officials here are monitoring the dispute closely, are working to defuse the tension and also want the two leaders to meet.

Gus Selassie, a political analyst on Africa at IHS Global Insight, a London-based think tank, said that while Odinga may have exceeded his constitutional powers in trying to suspend the two ministers, Kibaki's reversal of the decision underscores the disconnect between Kenya's two leaders.

Selassie said that while Kibaki was first elected president in December 2002 on an anti-corruption platform, he is now reluctant to act against senior figures implicated in scandals.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit made public last week shows Kenya lost $26.1 million through corrupt deals that stemmed from a government program to provide subsidized maize for Kenya's poor. Government auditors uncovered fraud in a program to offer free primary education -- two scandals that led Odinga to try to dismiss the Cabinet ministers.

Average Kenyans still want their government to fight graft, but now they especially want their leaders to work together and prevent violence from erupting again.

"We expect this to be resolved," said Sihanya. "Otherwise the alternative is quite dire for the country."

[Associated Press; By JASON STRAZIUSO]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor