Kenya has a submarine

Afraid in a boat

When Kenya's foreign ministerWhen Moses Wetangula talks about Samuel Kivuitu, the head of the Kenyan Electoral Commission, he easily gets angry. His anger is not directed against Kivuitu himself, although the more than inadequate organization of the presidential election on December 27, 2007 made it impossible to determine the winner. This recently determined a truth commission chaired by the South African judge Johann Kriegler. It is part of the peace package with which the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ended the violence following the elections in late February, which had cost the lives of more than 1,000 people. Kriegler's investigation report presented at the end of September is the result of hundreds of interviews with eyewitnesses and protagonists of the worst political crisis in Kenya after independence. And he almost cries out for those responsible to be dismissed. But so far nobody has taken his hat.
"Our elections were less well organized than an impromptu tea party in a monkey stall," said one of Kenya's most important columnists, the economist Sunny Bhindra. The election commission is "an organization with pompous cream puffs at the top and clueless and inexperienced employees at the base." But such criticism rolls off Wetangula. What really outraged him, he recently let the press know, was the pressure that European nations were exerting on the electoral commission. "I am annoyed that some ambassadors are calling on Kivuitu to resign," the minister said on record. "It's a question of Kenya's sovereignty."
Wetangula is a symbol of how politics is being done in Kenya six months after a grand coalition was agreed. The newly appointed Prime Minister Raila Odinga takes care of the day’s politics, while the old and new President Mwai Kibaki pulls the strings in the background. Since their publicly acclaimed handshake agreement, the two have not spoken critical of each other. So do the nearly 100 ministers, deputy ministers and state secretaries - men and women - who are at the head of one of the most bloated governments in Africa. The view is rigidly ahead - there is no reappraisal of the ethnic violence fueled by the rulers in both camps. If you believe government spokesman Alfred Mutua, everything in Kenya has long been back to normal. But while that may be true for the political elite - they are probably even better off than before - large parts of the former holiday paradise are still in a state of emergency.

There is no more fightingbut the people of the Rift Valley still live in fear of their neighbors. "My farm is over there, an acre of land and a simple farmhouse. But everything burned down and I don't dare to go back," complains Jackson Ogero, a 60-year-old father of eight who lives an hour away from the highway connecting Nairobi with Uganda. He shares a UN refugee agency tent made of translucent white plastic with his wife, two children and three grandchildren. Like President Kibaki, Ogero is a Kikuyu, and here in the Rift Valley, his ethnic group is a minority. The Kalenjin, who make up the majority, prevent the ogeros from returning to their land. "The government promised us help with the reconstruction, but we got nothing," says the displaced person.
If the Kalenjin Joel Korir has its way, the displaced should run away to where they came from. "You can't live with those who take your property from you. It's good when they go." The fact that the third generation of Ogero's family has lived here makes no difference to Korir. Land is scarce in Kenya and whoever has it is no longer available. Land reform is one of the greatest challenges that the coalition would have to face - but so far it has made no move. Constitutional reform, which would give the prime minister more powers, is also making no headway. Instead, there are increasing accusations that parliamentarians, like their predecessors, are primarily concerned with enriching themselves. The chances are almost never: because a grand coalition rules, there is no parliamentary opposition. Civil society is hardly present any more.

A kind of political blank checkspeaks one of the greatest critics of the Kenyan political class, Kibaki's former anti-corruption officer John Githongo (see SWM 5/2005, p. 19). In order to prevent new violence, which would again hit the poorest in the countryside and in the slums, most Kenyans are ready to endure anything. "The motto is: Just keep the peace", says Githongo, who recently returned to Kenya for the first time after three years in self-chosen exile. "In order to end the violence, everyone has been packed into one boat. But in this boat everyone is still eyeing each other as fearfully as before." Accusing one or two captains of corruption in this climate, Githongo fears, could overturn the ship.
That is why the once so eloquent tribune, who is described by its critics as loyal and honest, holds back. In 2005 he let Kibaki know in a radio interview from London that he was going to quit his ministerial post for ethical issues and good governance out of fear for his life. Now he is conciliatory. "We can only look ahead if we leave the past behind us," Githongo justifies his call for an amnesty for past corruption offenses. Of course, he attaches conditions to it: "Those responsible must face up, publicly confess their deeds and repay the misappropriated money." Those who accuse themselves should also be excluded from public office. But Kenya's Justice Minister Martha Karua did not go into these crucial details when she announced that a general amnesty by law was in preparation.

The grand coalition has been wrestling for monthswith their first corruption scandal. Several ministers are said to have made a substantial contribution to the sale of a top hotel. Finance Minister Amos Kimunya, one of Kibaki's closest confidants, had to resign. But almost everyone in Kenya is certain that Kimunya, like so many other politicians suspected of corruption, will return to the cabinet.
Githongo believes that only one thing is decisive for the success of the coalition: the harmony between the two men at the top. And that seems guaranteed. While Kibaki's party alliance is already openly arguing about the successor to the 77-year-old in the 2012 elections, Odinga is one of the few who firmly stand by Kibaki in public. Politically, this guarantees stability. But whether the life of Kenyans beyond Nairobi's government district will improve through the unity government is more than uncertain.

Marc Engelhardt has lived in Kenya since 2003 and works from there as a freelance Africa correspondent for the daily newspaper Der Standard, among others.
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