In Kenya, Some Fear That Fissures Remain

Political Deal Is Superficial, Critics Say

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)
Washington Post Foreign Service 
Sunday, September 7, 2008; Page A17

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.

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)

"At some point, there will be a revolt against them all," he said. "They've conned everyone, I'm sorry to say. Even I did it. I was one of them."

The discontent is especially palpable around the white-tented camps for displaced people that still dot the rolling, green Rift Valley where much of the violence took place. Although most of the largest camps have been dismantled, the majority of those who lived there have been shifted to smaller camps closer to their burned-out homes and farms, where they are living face to face with the neighbors who chased them away.

With the help of international donors, including the United States, the government has provided food rations and begun handing out seeds and tools to help people rebuild their farms, but the assistance has not reached everyone.

"They promised they would come and build our houses, give us $100 for starting life, yet we have not gotten anything," said Josephat Ndura, 26, who, with 200 or so other families, moved his tent to a scrap of land near their farms in the Molo district of the Rift Valley. "We cannot farm, because we don't have tools. And the people who attacked, they are still around."

About 3 p.m. last Sunday, the families who would normally have been tending to their farms were idle, sitting outside leaky tents. Margaret Wangari, who is Kikuyu, said that not one of her old neighbors -- who come from the Kalenjin tribe that backed Odinga and supported the militias that chased the Kikuyu away -- has welcomed her home. She recently spotted a man herding a calf she said was stolen from her farm.

"There is no conversation," she said, referring to her neighbors. "They just look at us."


Things are also uncomfortable in the Kalenjin towns along the roads that wind through the Rift Valley. People there voted for Odinga because they felt ignored by Kibaki's government, and many took part in chasing away their Kikuyu neighbors, which helped Odinga get his position as prime minister. Now, they say, they're waiting to see some sort of reward in the form of jobs and development.

"We haven't seen any change," said Albert Kirui, a spare-parts salesman who was sitting on the porch of the Silent Hotel in Kericho, a trading town amid the tea farms in the valley. "You only see a change in Nairobi."

Hundreds of young men who allegedly took part in the violence remain in jails, Kirui added, a sore point for many of Odinga's backers, who are pressing him to secure an amnesty deal. The attorney general, a Kibaki appointee, is pushing for full prosecution of those involved in the violence.

Despite the icy relations between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu, officials are painting a different picture of the situation. "Only a few months back, the nation was bleeding," said Ali Dawood, who is in charge of resettlement issues for the government. "Today, the same people are dancing and merrymaking."

Kiplagat, the former diplomat, said that although grass-roots efforts have begun the reconciliation process, more attention needs to be paid to changing the ethnically based political system that sparked the crisis. That includes adopting a new constitution, possibly one that redraws the electoral map to break some of the largest ethnic voting blocs and devolve power to a more local level, he said.

Kibaki and Odinga have pledged to work on revising the constitution, which critics say concentrates too much power in the presidency.

But Kenya's leaders must also face up to the reality of ethnic hatreds, Kiplagat said.

"We've got to go deeper and deal with it squarely and not run away from it," he said, adding that his group is working on a plan to avert a crisis ahead of the next presidential election, in 2012. "I can't tell you we shall not go back the same way. I cannot."

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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