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A general without officers: president Mwai Kibaki is facing his most serious crisis since winning the elections in 2002. At the time of writing, he had no cabinet--having sacked the previous one but unable to persuade new ministers to take up their posts. Neil Ford explains the economic consequences.

When President Mwai Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government came to power at the end of 2002, it was widely expected that the economy would pick up on a wave of investment. Many foreign and domestic businesses and donors had held back funds because of the high level of corruption and political instability that characterised the final years of rule by Daniel arap Moi's Kenya African National Union (Kanu).


Yet accusations of renewed financial improprieties and now the ongoing political crisis have done little to engender a positive perception of economic and political stability in the country.

The current political instability was thrust into the international spotlight when the Kenyan people rejected the proposed constitution in a referendum in November by 57% to 43%-a sizeable margin in anyone's book. Although Kibaki may attempt to rewrite the constitution in an effort to repackage it, a second referendum seems unlikely.

Opposition to the constitution produced an unlikely alliance among the country's political elite. The previously dispirited Kanu leadership found a cause on which they could fight; one of the Narc government's leading lights, Raila Odinga, led a number of his colleagues against the constitution on the grounds that it would place too much power in the hands of the Presidency.


It has been widely assumed within Kenya that Odinga had been promised the post of prime minister after the 2002 election, but Narc took almost three years to put its proposed constitutional changes to the people. To add insult to injury, instead of strengthening the position of the Prime Minister as a counterbalance to presidential power, the new document continued to concentrate power in the Head of State. Many observers both inside Kenya and beyond have viewed the extent of presidential power as one of the root causes of the country's political fragility over the past four decades.

Odinga's decision to oppose the referendum, and by inference also Kibaki, was undoubtedly swayed partly by personal ambition. Yet as a politician of some weight he was also able to claim the moral high ground and was supported by a large proportion of the Kenyan population. At the same time, many Kenyans used the poll as a referendum on the popularity of the Narc government in general and President Kibaki in particular.

In 2002, hopes had been high that things would change but both the urban and rural populations have seen few concrete benefits since Kanu's fall from power.

Kibaki viewed the defection of Odinga and six other ministers as a personal slight and dismissed his entire cabinet after the results of the referendum were announced. At this stage, Kibaki was undoubtedly in political difficulties, but a troublesome problem turned into a crisis when the president announced his new cabinet in early December. Although all the ministers who supported the 'no' campaign were excluded from the list, at least 15 other Narc MPs had refused to take up posts in the cabinet when African Business went to press.

Musikari Kombo refused an offer to retain his position as local government minister, while Orwa Ojode rejected the post of minister for environment and natural resources and Charity Ngilu was reported as saying that she would decline the health portfolio pending consultations with her party. In addition, Kombo has pulled his entire party, Ford-Kenya, out of the Narc coalition.

Amidst all the political uproar, regional jealousies have also begun to rear their head. Ojode, who represents Ndiwa in the west of the country, said: "You find that in my community, we have been sidelined completely apart from this departmental ministry which has been offered to me. What happened to the ministry of planning? What happened to the ministry of roads?" Ngilu added: "The president should have consulted all parties in the coalition before choosing his ministers."

The political crisis is also likely to have economic ramifications. Although some money has been made available by multilaterals and a variety of donors, the level of external investment in East Africa's biggest economy has not met with expectations. Allegations of corruption, even at ministerial level, have tarnished the government's reputation and many external bodies have asked for a much more aggressive stance on bribery and other financial irregularities before they are prepared to commit themselves to the country. Moreover, the government's management of the referendum has come under sustained criticism from outside.

Many donors objected to the use of government money to fund the 'yes' campaign in the poll and a renewed bout of both private sector investment and multilateral support seems unlikely without major changes in policy at the top.

With legislative elections not due until 2007, Kibaki faces an extended period of uncertainty. The Narc coalition comprised such a disparate group of political interest groups that it was difficult to maintain party discipline during the run up to the 2002 election. Yet everyone who was anyone in the political opposition wanted to be involved because the expected Narc victory would give them power for the first time in Kenya's independent history. Once in power, the coalition began to fragment and Kibaki's decision to rely upon a handful of advisors was both a cause and the result of a lack of party cohesion.

Once criticism of the Narc government had culminated in the referendum defeat, those without the ear of the president seem to have had little hesitation in voicing their discontent. That the decision was taken by so many politicians not to decline proffered posts in the new cabinet surely indicates that they believe that they know a sinking ship when they see one. Unless Kibaki can gather a majority of Narc MPs around his flag, an election may have to be called.

Outside Kanu, Kenyan political allegiances move so fast that it is difficult to make any predictions with certainty.


Holding the line in the Horn

Rising tensions in the Horn of Africa are threatening to push Eritrea and Ethiopia over the line into renewed conflict over their territorial claims.


While parts of the Ethiopian economy are showing signs of strong growth, widespread poverty and political unrest continue to plague the country. At the same time, Eritrea is struggling to establish itself as a viable state and has few areas of economic virility.

Both governments seem to be diverting attention away from their domestic troubles towards the boundary dispute, while the United Nations continues to try to keep the peace.

Eritrea brought matters to a head in December, when Asmara decided to expel UN personnel from its territory with just 10 days notice. The move not only affects the operations of UN peacekeepers in the area but has succeeded in annoying the UN as a whole. The Eritrean government had already banned UN helicopter patrols in October but has failed to explain why it has begun to take its frustrations out on the UN forces. It is Ethiopia that has most fiercely vocalised its dissatisfaction with the 2000 peace deal, particular with regard to the fate of the border town of Badme.

However, it appears that Eritrea has interpreted the lack of progress on boundary delimitation by the UN as a sign that the peacekeeping mission is being manipulated by Addis Ababa. Ethiopian troops have yet to pull out of Badme, while the Eritrean government has objected to phone calls made by UN secretary general Kofi Annan to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. An Eritrea government spokesperson noted: "This unwarranted political meddling is principally aimed at letting the Ethiopian regime off the hook."

In recent months, both sides had moved large number of troops and armaments towards the border that is policed by just 3,330 UN soldiers in a 25km buffer zone, although Ethiopia has agreed to pull back more recently. The Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs, Seyoum Mesfin, commented: "Though we have seen no encouraging signs from Eritrea ... Ethiopia is convinced that its compliance with the UN Security Council's instruction is necessary even if doing so might have some risk for Ethiopia's security."

The head of the UN force, Jean-Marie Guehenno, has said: "Nobody should be complacent in the present situation. There is always a risk of war by miscalculation." However, he added: "We appreciate the decision of Ethiopia to pull back its troops from the frontline."

There is no doubt that the huge sums of money that the two states are spending on maintaining large armed forces in case of renewed fighting are exacerbating their respective economic woes. Money that could otherwise be spent on social and infrastructural projects is being used to maintain large numbers of military personnel.

The parcels of disputed land contain little of value and relatively few people live in the area but both Addis Ababa and Asmara view the border dispute as a matter of national pride, following the bloody border war that ended in December 2002 and which was a painful divorce between two political elites that were previously allies.
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Title Annotation:political crisis; legislative elections
Author:Ford, Neil
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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