Kenyans in No Mood to Sign Off On Paychecks for Leaders' Wives

Ida Odinga, wife of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, could have gotten a stipend of $70,000 under a proposal.
Ida Odinga, wife of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, could have gotten a stipend of $70,000 under a proposal. (By Ben Curtis -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 4, 2008

NAIROBI -- The deal that ended Kenya's violent post-election crisis has unleashed a period of one-upmanship among the country's political troika, President Mwai Kibaki, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and newly appointed Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

In recent months, the three former competitors have sparred over protocol issues, such as who should speak first, who should sit where and the relative size of their limousines.

But the most recent issue to arise in the symbolic power struggle could be its most expensive: a proposal to pay a yearly allowance of roughly $70,000 each to the wives, or "gracious ladies," of the prime minister and the vice president.

First lady Lucy Kibaki, who has made few public appearances since scandalizing the nation last year by publicly slapping an emcee she deemed impertinent, collects nearly $100,000 a year in state funds as compensation for her "social responsibilities."

And so, the argument goes, Ida Odinga and Pauline Musyoka also should get "responsibility allowances." The head of Kenya's civil service, who proposed the stipends, has said the spouses play a crucial role in projecting "our nation's family values."

But Kenyans, who make an average of $1,300 a year, are not buying it.

The president's annual salary exceeds $300,000, and a legislator banks $120,000 plus perks on average. So the idea of two more salaries on the official payroll has prompted outrage, especially in the pages of the country's two largest newspapers.

One reader called the proposal "galling" in a letter to the Nation, and a scathing editorial in the paper deemed it "disgraceful."

"The leadership of this country cannot continue to pretend that 36 million Kenyans exist to feed them and their families, and keep them in luxury," the editorial said. "This lack of respect for taxpayers' money is contemptuous of the fact that this is a poor country, many of whose citizens live on the verge of starvation."

The matter is especially touchy because tens of thousands of Kenyans displaced by violence after the disputed presidential election in December still live in leaky tents, waiting for $100 grants promised by the government to help them rebuild homes and farms that were burned to the ground.

Writing in the Standard, one reader said that "the mood is right for taking the moral high ground."

"There is no shortage of deserving causes," the letter continued. "Try the myriad orphans, internally displaced people, more toilets in slums -- need we say more?"

Pauline Musyoka, who earns a top-tier salary working for the Central Bank of Kenya, has not commented on the allowance proposal. Ida Odinga, who manages one of her husband's family businesses, broke her silence on the matter this week.

She declined the additional paycheck.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company