In Kenya, Some Fear That Fissures Remain

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, left, was named Kenya's prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement announced in April by President Mwai Kibaki.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, left, was named Kenya's prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement announced in April by President Mwai Kibaki. (By Karel Prinsloo -- Associated Press)
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 7, 2008

NAIROBI -- In Kenya these days, tourists are slowly returning to safari camps across the Masai Mara game reserve. The economy is hobbling back to life, and the country's once-feuding political leaders often shake hands and exchange conciliatory words in public.

Nearly eight months after a wave of post-election violence brought one of East Africa's most stable democracies to the brink of collapse, it is almost as if there had been no crisis. And that is what troubles some Kenyans the most.

"My biggest worry is that it's business as usual," said Bethuel Kiplagat, a retired diplomat who helped form the group Concerned Citizens for Peace during the violence. "My fear is that the deeper causes are not being addressed."

A power-sharing deal signed in February ended the immediate crisis, which was triggered by allegations that President Mwai Kibaki stole the presidential election from opposition leader Raila Odinga. The agreement created a prime minister post for Odinga and set up commissions to investigate the election and causes of the violence, which left at least 1,000 people dead and displaced an estimated 350,000, most of them from Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu.

But some observers say the compromise has played out only superficially, as members of the political elite have returned to petty backroom machinations at the expense of a country still divided by the crisis.

Although urging Kenyans to forget the past, Kibaki and Odinga have rewarded supporters with high-salary positions as ministers and assistant ministers, resulting in a 94-member cabinet that is the biggest and most expensive in Kenyan history. Parliament members, the highest paid on the continent, were sworn in and soon got down to the business of trying to resist an attempt to tax their pay of $120,000 a year.

Meanwhile, Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka have tussled over protocol issues such as who should speak first and their relative position in motorcades. A more recent spat involved who would qualify to use a proposed VIP lane alongside Nairobi's main thoroughfares.

"There has been a lot of childishness," said Gitau Warigi, a political columnist with the Daily Nation newspaper. "But underneath there are major structural problems with how the top offices are relating to each other."

For example, Odinga was tasked with "coordinating and supervising" government ministries. But the head of Kenya's civil service -- a presidential appointee who effectively did the job before -- has dismissed his authority. The two have issued competing orders, to the confusion of government workers.

"The heart of executive power remains with the president, and it's in the president's interest to keep things chaotic," Warigi said. "That tells me that one side of the divide is not keen on this arrangement lasting."

But David Murathe, a former legislator allied with Kibaki, said the president and Odinga were sobered by the violence and have no desire to see more fighting. Although human rights groups have accused politicians connected to both sides of orchestrating the violence, Murathe said Kibaki and Odinga became concerned that the situation was beyond their control.

But Kenyans are growing restless as they await dividends from the political settlement, Murathe said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company