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Balance of Power

by Helmut Danner
Since February 2008, a grand coalition of political opponents has been running Kenya. The situation in the country is relatively peaceful, but people do not have a lot of trust in their government. [ By Helmut Danner ]

When Raila Odinga founded the Orange Opposition in Kenya in November 2008 and later the party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the base is laid for the bloodshed that started after the 2007 elections. Odinga’s ODM was mostly supported by the ethnic groups of the Luo and Kalenjin, whereas the Party of National Unity (PNU) of President Mwai Kibaki is dominated by the Kikuyu.

The elections resulted in a stalemate and the ODM called for mass demonstrations. In January and February 2008, looting and murder marked the country. The Kalenjin tried to drive the Kikuyu out of the Rift Valley, and the Kikuyu fought back.

After some mediation attempts of John Kufuor, Ghana’s president at the time, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stepped in. In late February, a coalition was formed with Kibaki serving as president and Odinga as prime minister. The post of prime minister was a constitutional innovation, it had to be created for the purpose of the coalition.

At first, the coalition resembled a forced marriage. Kibaki and Odinga had difficulties with each other. Odinga and his people complained that the president did not consult them before making decisions. The prime minister did not feel treated adequately. There was debate about the ranking of the vice president, with Odinga insisting on a superior position. After Odinga invited Kibaki to his home in Luo-land early last year, the relationship improved, however. By then, Odinga was already alienated from the Kalenjin-wing of the ODM. They accuse him of having letting them down after they had fought for him.

Due to the ODM/PNU coalition, there is peace in Kenya. Progress is observable in road building, electrification, the for nowrural health system and funding for small-scale development projects. Moreover, the central bank has issued infrastructure bonds. Some people, nonetheless, are still living in refugee camps unable to return home because they fear attacks from neighbours.

The coalition agreement boosted the role of the parliament and its committees, even though there is virtually no opposition. ODM and PNU take all decisions. But the members of parliament matter, and in that sense, the president lost some of his supreme power. Democracy has thus been strengthened to a limited extent.

Kenya is still far from an ideal type democracy. State institutions, such as parliament, courts, law-enforcement agencies and ministries basically help the elites to protect their power, status and wealth. Impunity is another crucial issue. The term characterises the present coalition. Two years after the riots, perpetrators are still not being persecuted. Parliament rejected the establishment of a national tribunal.

The government is delaying cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) even though it initially supported the idea. Investigation of the main suspects was not transferred to the ICC. The lack of political will is obvious, so most Kenyans now trust the ICC more than their own judiciary. Faith in Kibaki’s and Odinga’s political leadership, moreover, is dwindling.

The president and the prime minister are stuck in a difficult situation. They want a standstill, which neither the majority of Kenyans nor the international community would accept. Both leaders were not active perpetrators of violence, but they knew what was going on and supported their respective sides. The Waki Report names the main culprits, six of whom now are cabinet members. Top politicians are protecting criminals from their parties and tribes.

Interference – whether from the US, Europe or even Kofi Annan – tends to annoy Kenyans. At the same time, they see the inaction of own politicians. Annan urged to implement already agreed-upon reforms on judiciary as well as land and measures to fight poverty and unemployment. At least, a draft for a new constitution was presented. For the followers of Kibaki and Odinga, however, the main issue is still the balance of their power.