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Opposition joins government in controversial reshuffle

In the Moi style of political bribery, President Mwai Kibaki on 30 June reshuffled his 18-month old cabinet, bringing on board MPs from the official opposition Kenya African National Union [KANU] and the second largest opposition party, FORD-People.
Zachary Ochieng

Though he calls it a government of national unity, critics have dismissed Kibaki’s new cabinet arrangement as a game of musical chairs meant to clip the wings of the increasingly intransigent Liberal Democratic party [LDP] faction of the ruling National Rainbow Coalition [NARC].

Yet, 30 June was the date president Kibaki had promised the government would deliver a new constitution to Kenyans. But to the chagrin of NARC supporters, he instead announced his new look but bloated cabinet on a televised state address. Thus, by expanding his cabinet, Kibaki broke yet another pledge he made to Kenyans– that of keeping a leaner cabinet. Interestingly, while announcing his first cabinet in January 2003, Kibaki compared a large cabinet to “an overweight man who cannot perform”.

But that was then. In his 30 June reshuffle, he created five more ministries and appointed 5 ministers and 14 assistant ministers from the opposition to man them. This effectively increased the number of ministries from 26 to 31. This was unexpected of Kibaki, who is otherwise respected as a seasoned economist.

With 31 ministers and 40 assistant ministers, Kenya now has the largest cabinet within the East African Community, followed by Uganda with 21 full cabinet ministers and 45 ministers of state. Tanzania has the leanest cabinet with 28 ministers and 18 assistant ministers. The expanded cabinet implies an increased burden to the Kenyan tax-payer, coming almost a month after the presentation of the budget speech.

Kibaki now faces a major challenge, with his chances of winning the next elections in 2007 waning by the day. His decision to include KANU in the government has been criticized as an insult to the electorate who voted out KANU only 18 months ago, following years of mismanagement and corruption.

And to add insult to injury, Kibaki did not consult the parties concerned but instead picked on individuals, most of whom are rebels in their own parties. It is against this background that the leader of official opposition Uhuru Kenyatta referred to Kibaki as a “political figurehead who had resorted to poaching of opposition MPs to garner the required support for passing government bills in parliament”. It may be recalled that the disenchanted LDP recently teamed up with KANU to defeat a government Bill, a scenario that sent shock waves to the other NARC faction – the National Alliance Party of Kenya [NAK].

If the president intended to quell the wrangling within the coalition, the move is bound to fall flatly on his face. By transferring ministers allied to the LDP to less glamorous ministries and retaining those allied to the NAK, Kibaki did not solve the problem but only succeeded in widening the rift in the coalition. It is not lost to observers that the wrangles in NARC emanated from the failure by NAK to honour a Memorandum of Understanding, which they entered into with LDP prior to the 2002 elections.

In the reshuffle, Raila Odinga, the de facto LDP leader had the housing portfolio removed from his previous docket of Roads, Public Works and Housing. Najib Balala, another outspoken LDP minister was stripped of his sports docket and assigned the heritage portfolio, a new obscure ministry in the Office of the Vice-President.

Ochilo Ayako, the youthful minister was removed from the energy ministry where he was beginning to make an impact and transferred to a monstrosity known as Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services. His place was taken over by septuagenarian Simeon Nyachae, leader of the opposition FORD-People party.

However, the most shocking transfer was that of Kalonzo Musyoka, a career diplomat who has served several stints as foreign minister since his days in KANU. He was transferred to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Though news of an impending reshuffle had been in the air for so long, it was expected that Kibaki would fire ministers who were involved in corruption scandals and those who were not performing. But that was not to be. It was also evident that unlike the first cabinet appointment, which dished out posts on the basis of merit, this time round, cronyism and sycophancy carried the day.

Notably, the boisterous former Local Government minister Karisa Maitha, who has been involved in several corruption scandals, and who was expected to be shown the door was instead elevated to the glamorous Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, despite his modest education and lack of experience in such a highly sensitive ministry.

Kibaki also created a new nondescript ministry under the Office of the President, known as “Special Programmes” and assigned it to his former ally Njenga Karume, 75, a semi-literate tycoon who ditched him for KANU in the run up to the 2002 elections.

It is also noteworthy that a number of ministers, who have been associated with corruption, were retained in the cabinet, a move that did not go down well with donors. Speaking at a ceremony to mark US Independence Day on 2 July, US ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy said his government was unhappy with the way Kibaki was handling democracy and the war on corruption, At issue, Bellamy said, was the way Kibaki handled his cabinet infighting, the recent reshuffle and the battle against corruption and the stalemate in the constitution review. “The recent reshuffle was a major issue because it had dashed hopes for a true multi-party or coalition democracy”, added Bellamy.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the British High Commissioner to Kenya Sir Edward Clay who said that the cabinet changes did not respond to donor unease about corruption scandals.

In a related development, Kenya’s leading donors on 5 July warned that they would withhold aid unless the government stepped up the war on corruption. .Eight missions representing Kenya’s top donors and embassies of European Union nations issued statements criticizing the government’s commitment to fight corruption.

The eight – USA, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – warned that so long as Kenya’s Treasury was being looted, they would not give any money. “Development partners cannot be expected to put their taxpayers’ funds at the service of Kenya if the country’s own Treasury and public resources are being tapped for private gain”, they warned in a statement.

The group called for the resignation and prosecution of those found to be involved in corruption. ”Those who appear to be implicated should be required to step aside in order to facilitate investigations”.

The credibility of the government, which was elected and won donor support on anti-corruption platform, has been seriously dented by reports of top level corruption involving billions of shillings, barely seven moths after donors resumed lending to Kenya. Notably, the projects involving a company called Anglo leasing Finance have continued to be shrouded in mystery, especially over the failure by the government to name the local principals of the company.

Donors were also not happy with the apparent demotion of the Permanent Secretary in charge of Ethics and Governance John Githongo from State House where he was reporting directly to the president, to a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. It was only after an outcry from the civil society organizations, notably Transparency International, where Githongo worked before, that the president decided to retain him at State House.

But it was not only the donors who were disappointed with the reshuffle. The LDP, which was largely seen to have lost out in the reshuffle came out fighting. The party accused Kibaki of replacing a multi-party system with a no-party movement similar to Uganda’s.

“The consequence of the president’s action is that it is now difficult to recognize the ruling party. The president has moved Kenya from a multi-party democracy to a no-party movement, the Uganda style”, said LDP in a statement read by its spokesman Joseph Kamotho. “My regret is that NARC has let down the whole continent by having a movement kind of government, abandoning the coalition which we had worked hard for. It is obviously a retrogression”, added Musyoka.

As it is, there is already confusion in the parliamentary sitting arrangement, with LDP MPs having crossed the floor to sit with KANU MPs on the opposition benches. Interestingly, the support of government bills, which Kibaki hoped to achieve by inviting the opposition to join the government, may not be forthcoming after all. Notably, FORD people MPs have refused to join their party leader Nyachae on the government side, arguing that he joined the government as an individual.

The ultimate losers in the reshuffle, however, were Kenyan youth and women. Only two women hold full cabinet positions. It is sad to note that while there are several young men and women qualified for various positions both in the cabinet and the civil service, Kibaki prefers to work with old men, mostly his former golf buddies or college mates at Uganda’s Makerere University. Notably, a number of permanent secretaries in the civil service are retirees who have been recalled to work on contract.

With the LDP having vowed to continue pressing for its demands, observers are watching keenly to see how far this “government of national unity” will go.

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