Tags: Kenya | politics | tensions | rising

Kenya Politics Rocked by Rising Tensions

Monday, 15 February 2010 11:06 AM

NAIROBI — Kenya's fractious coalition government on Monday faced its biggest crisis since emerging from post-election violence two years ago, as its rival leaders clashed openly over a corruption probe.

President Mwai Kibaki revoked the suspension of two ministers within hours of a decision announced Sunday by Prime Minister Raila Odinga to sideline them during an investigation into millions of dollars in missing foreign aid.

Kibaki said Odinga had no power to suspend the ministers, and contradicted the prime minister's assertion that he had taken the decision in consultation with the president.

The clash reopened old wounds between the rivals, forced to work together in a power-sharing deal thrashed out in 2008 to end bloody clashes triggered by disputed elections.

"The power struggle between them is indicative of the deep-rooted suspicion within the coalition partners," said Evans Monari, a Nairobi-based political analyst.

"Without a dispute resolution Kenya is between a rock and a hard place," Monari told AFP.

Odinga had suspended Agriculture Minister William Ruto and Education Minister Samuel Ongeri for three months to enable them to be investigated for alleged corruption amid growing international pressure to deal with rampant graft.

Ruto is a member of Odinga's own group within the coalition while Ongeri is an ally of Kibaki.

Odinga said two recent investigations -- a 26-million-dollar subsidised maize scam and the disappearance of 1.3 million dollars at the education ministry -- had "laid credible foundations for the two ministers to be investigated".

The move comes after the United States, Kenya's largest single aid partner, in January suspended a seven-million-dollar assistance programme at the education ministry "until there is a credible, independent audit and full accountability".

The power-sharing deal calls for consultations between the two leaders before the removal of a minister, but Odinga later told the BBC he need not consult Kibaki while carrying out his duty of supervising ministries.

"The prime minister has spoken, the president has also spoken. It is a weighty issue. It is an issue on which we can very easily move into a constitutional crisis," Attorney General Amos Wako told reporters.

The accord handed Odinga the prime minister's post with the task of supervising ministries and coordinating government affairs.

But Odinga has faced opposition from Kibaki's camp over his exact role in government, with critics charging that his post rivals that of the vice president's and other senior government officials.

The infighting also sparked criticism by Nairobi's Western allies of the slow pace of implementing reforms to prevent a repeat of the violence that rocked Kenya in early 2008, killing some 1,500 people.

"The two principals have elevated themselves from the problems facing this country. You get the distinct feeling feeling that they are divorced from the needs of the population," said Jacob Ogonda, director of the Kenyan chapter of Transparency International. "We are at the risk of being a failed state."

In a statement revoking the ministers' suspensions, Kibaki said Odinga had overstepped his authority: "The legal provisions on which the prime minister acted do not confer him the authority to cause a minister to vacate his or her office."

Some observers said Odinga's move was linked to Kenya's next elections in 2012.

"Odinga has never shown much zeal in the fight against corruption," said Francois Grignon, the International Crisis Group's director for Africa.

"Therefore if he is taking such a lead at this time, it is because he has a political interest in the matter.

"Odinga's objective is to stoke a crisis two years after the signing of the (power-sharing) accord to regain political capital," he said.

In addition to the two ministers, eight senior government officials, including two from Odinga's office, have been suspended over the two scandals.

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NAIROBI — Kenya's fractious coalition government on Monday faced its biggest crisis since emerging from post-election violence two years ago, as its rival leaders clashed openly over a corruption probe.
Monday, 15 February 2010 11:06 AM
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