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Nairobi, Kenya

NARC wavers two years later

Two years after its ascension to power, the ruling National Rainbow Coalition [NARC] is yet to fulfil promises made to the electorate.

15 January 2005 - Fred Oluoch

The day was 30 December 2002. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans gathered at the historic Uhuru Park – where Kenya received her independence from the British in 1963. But this was a different kind of independence. The then governing party Kenya African National Union [KANU] under former president Daniel arap Moi was handing over power for the first time in forty years, to Mwai Kibaki of the National Rainbow Coalition [NARC].

Amid chants of Rainbow! Rainbow! and “Yote yawezekana bila Moi” [Kiswahili for ‘without Moi, all things are possible’] the euphoric crowd threw mud balls at Moi as he arrived at the venue and heckled him when he rose to deliver his farewell speech. After all, the second liberation had been attained. But two years later, the situation has changed. Whenever Moi appears in public, he is wildly cheered than the incumbent, a clear indication that the euphoria has since petered out.

So far with only two years in office, confidence in the NARC government continues to wane, largely due to persistent wrangles among the affiliate parties, selective purge of corrupt public officers and the emergence of “Mount Kenya Mafia”, a coterie of cabinet ministers from Kibaki’s Central region, who have been lording it over their cabinet colleagues. Already, murmurs abound that president Kibaki’s populous Kikuyu ethnic community is being favoured in public appointments.

Having won the December 2002 transition elections on a variety of platforms including provision of free primary education, enactment of a new constitution, revival of the ailing economy and zero tolerance on corruption among others, the 15-party coalition has been a let down to the electorate, with critics blaming the coalition’s dismal performance on president Kibaki’s laidback approach.

While describing Kibaki’s style as laidback, Constitution of Kenya Review Commission [CKRC] chairman Patrick Lumumba hastens to add that it is too early to compare his style with that of either former presidents Jomo Kenyatta or Moi. “To be honest, one can only compare the first two years of Moi’s presidency with the first two years of Kibaki’s presidency”.

He added: “The president has succeeded in delegating responsibility to his ministers. This has served to demystify the presidency to some extent, which is necessary. But one would have loved to see his style supplemented y a strengthening of his institutions. A new constitution by now would have done this”.

Indeed, the government’s biggest let down has been its failure to enact a new constitution, which has eluded Kenyans for more than a decade. Even though NARC promised Kenyans a new constitution within the first 100 days in office, hopes of achieving it under the current administration are waning by the day following persistent disagreements between the Liberal Democratic Party [LDP] and the National Alliance Party of Kenya [NAK] – key partners in the coalition - over what form of government the country should adopt. In a surprise turn of events, Kibaki has refused to assent to a consensus Bill arrived at by MPs from across the political divide.

What stands out, however, as the most visible and far reaching success of the NARC government is the provision of free primary education. Though dogged by logistical problems at the time of implementation early 2003, the free education policy has brought to school 1.5 million more children, raising the primary school population to 7.2 million.

This is no mean feat, considering that under the previous regime, an estimated 3 million school age children were out of school, due to lack of fees. But the provision of free education was not marched with quality. No new schools or classrooms have been constructed to cater for the increased numbers. The 18000 primary schools have a shortage of 60000 teachers.

Since the introduction of free schooling, public schools have been performing poorly. In last year’s Kenya Certificate of Education [KCPE] – an exam that enables students to proceed to secondary schools – private schools patronized by the rich dominated the exam league tables, with only one pupil from a public school emerging among the top 100 candidates nationwide. Yet, if efficiently and effectively implemented, the free education policy could become a lasting legacy of the ruling coalition.

Buoyed by the goodwill enjoyed locally and internationally, the government declared total war on corruption and managed to convince donors to resume lending to Kenya after a hiatus of almost a decade. Significantly, a number of prominent people with links to the former regime have been arraigned in court.

But the main opposition party KANU accuses the government of fighting corruption selectively. Party secretary general Julius Sunkuli, accuses NARC of pursuing personal vendetta against the KANU leadership under the guise of fighting corruption. Says he: ”The NARC leaders have spent all their energies digging past graves while pursuing personal vendetta against their perceived enemies in KANU”.

Though the government says there are no sacred cows in the war against corruption, top officials, including cabinet minister have been implicated in corrupt deals, a situation that led to the suspension of aid to Kenya by the European Union last July.

That the Kibaki government is determined to fight graft is also exemplified by the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal, the country’s biggest financial scandal in which the government paid out a whopping 250 million Euros as export compensation for non-existent gold and diamonds in early 1990s.

The money was paid out to Goldenberg International, a firm jointly owned by Kamlesh Pattni – a Kenyan of Indian descent and James Kanyotu, former director of the National Security Intelligence, both of whom had powerful connections with the previous regime. The commission has so far unravelled the mystery surrounding the case that dragged in courts for almost ten years under the Moi regime.

While the Goldenberg inquiry is hailed as a bold move, it is likely to open a can of worms. Evidence adduced so far has implicated some senior NARC government officials including Education minister George Saitoti, who was Vice president and minister for Finance at the time.

For decades, Kenyan prisons had become death chambers. Suspected dissidents would also be tortured, some to death, at the infamous Nyayo House dungeons. But as soon as the NARC government came to power, the torture chambers were gazetted as a ”national monument of shame”.

When Vice-President and Home Affairs minister Moody Awori visited prisons – the first minister ever to do so – he came face to face with the problems of congestion, diseases and a poor diet and immediately promised to take action.

And as part of the reforms pledged by NARC in the prisons department, President Kibaki in February 2003 released 29 inmates who had been on death row for the last 15-22 years. He also commuted sentences of another 195 death row inmates to life imprisonment. Besides decongesting prisons, Awori said the move also means that Kenya may soon join the rest of the world in abolishing capital punishment.

Press freedom suffered an unprecedented setback during the Moi era. In 2002, the Moi government moved to curb press freedom by enacting a draconian legislation, which imposed heavy financial and publishing requirements. But following the ascension to power by NARC, the government has vowed to sponsor a motion to remove the Act. Hamad Kassim, the chief Kadhi, praised the NARC government for giving people freedom of speech. “Under the Moi regime, people lived in fear”.

The economy, however, has not been doing well. After a buoyant confidence in the first three months of NARC rule, most economic indicators took a nosedive, with the sharpest decline in businesses being recorded in the first seven months. Basic foodstuff such as maize became expensive. Inflation crept back to the economy, with last year witnessing one of the steepest rises in inflation in the past two decades. Between August and November, the month-on –month inflation rates shot past the 15 percentage mark.

Whereas the Planning and National Development minister Prof Anyang Nyongo has translated the NARC election manifesto into a five-year blueprint titled “Economic Recovery Strategy for wealth and employment creation”, the promised annual economic growth rate of 7 per cent per annum and the creation of 500 000 jobs a year seem to be untenable in the near future. Last year, the economy grew at 2.2 per cent. But the tourism industry recorded a major boom after five years in the doldrums, thanks to aggressive marketing by the acting tourism minister Raphael Tuju.

As the government embarks on its third year, analysts argue that not much change should be expected given that the president since taking over power has retained in high position, some personalities who had a long stint in the previous regime at the expense of fresh blood. This, among others, is seen as a manifestation that the expected shift from Moi's style of over-reliance on long-time cronies could be unexpectedly slow, if not futile. Admittedly, a number of government departments, including the security intelligence are still headed by Moi’s lieutenants.

Of all the misfortunes, death seems to stalk NARC, earning itself a dubious distinction of being a jinxed government. In just two years, the coalition has lost seven MPs, four of them cabinet ministers. They include former Vice-president Wamalwa Kijana and former tourism minister Karisa Maitha, who died in Germany last year.

In all, the two years of the Kibaki administration have generated mixed feelings.

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