A power-sharing agreement here that brought peace in the wake of controversial elections in December that sparked political violence that killed at least 1,500 people, has been hailed as a model by the African Union for countries like Zimbabwe struggling to deal with the aftermath of a disputed vote. In February, President Mwai Kibaki named opposition leader Raila Odinga to the newly created post of prime minister. Kibaki and Odinga – the latter had accused the incumbent president of rigging the election – then agreed to parcel out top government posts among their allies and expand the Cabinet from 34 ministries to 41 to better represent Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups.At the time, it seemed diplomacy had worked, damping a blazing political rivalry with a handshake and a smile.
Violence soon ended. But five months later, many analysts say little has been done to remedy the conditions of impunity and corruption at the heart of Kenya’s political crisis. Among the country’s new ministers are men accused of inciting election violence and being key players in corruption scandals that have swindled taxpayers of more than $1 billion since the 1990s, according to Kroll Inc., an international risk-assessment firm. And a look at this year’s national budget suggests that the new parliament has returned to business as usual, these same analysts say.
“The script remains the same,” said Barach Muluka, a political commentator in the capital, Nairobi. “The cast is largely the same. A few players have come on board but everything is largely the same.”Not far from the site in the small village of Kiambaa where Kalenjin tribal fighters set a church alight, burning more than 30 Kikuyus alive in January, Kalenjin elders pointed to the man who they say could have stopped the violence.
“If William Ruto says stop, it will stop,” the elders told Human Rights Watch. Ruto, who denies involvement in ethnic violence, is the new minister of agriculture.In February, police investigated William ole Ntimama, the new minister of national heritage, after finding gasoline canisters in his vehicle in the town of Narok. Members of his Masai ethnic group had killed and raped Kikuyu residents, before burning their homes to the ground. Ntimama denies the allegations. “This is a warlord Cabinet,” said Muluka. “The citizens, the voters, are gun fodder. Once the warlords get what they want, the guns fall silent.”
To be sure, there are signs that Kenya is returning to normal. In the lakeside town of Naivasha, safari vehicles are filled with foreign tourists gawking at hippos and drinking tea at lakeside estates that were once the stomping grounds of Kenya’s colonial class. Across the road, sagging white tents, and trampled savannah grass are reminders of a displacement camp for thousands of refugees who had fled election violence. Chairs still cluster around a tin-roof building where the Kenya Red Cross handed out food and medicines. Today, only a few hundred people remain, fearful of going home and still waiting for the $158 government stipend for resettlement. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights estimates that there are 190,000 displaced people still living in camps across Kenya.
But there are signs that Kenya is heading for another political calamity.
Kenya has requested $1.1 billion from international donors to avert a looming food crisis caused by rising prices, and just 15 percent of the national budget has been allocated for development programs, according to the Mars Group, a Kenyan anti-corruption watchdog organization. Moreover, the newly created Cabinet positions will cost at least $800 million in office space, staff, bodyguards and state-issued luxury cars, more than a tenth of the national budget. Another $30 million, nearly the amount of the entire education budget, has been set aside for water and power utilities at the presidential estate. And more than $100 million has been allocated for debt payments on so-called ghost projects, including $70 million for a naval ship that has never been delivered and $100 million for a nonexistent fertilizer company, according to the Mars Group.
Why? Parliament has yet to debate the budget. Instead, lawmakers have spent much of their time fighting a plan to tax their annual salaries of $160,000. In contrast, a U.S. senator earns $169,300. “If they dillydally, and invoke political dishonesty as we have seen in the past – take advantage of power to reintroduce tribalism, corruption, and benefit a nucleus of friends – then there is a likelihood that this will not be a lasting peace,” said Omar Hassan, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. “The portrayal that Kenya was a unified, dignified, peaceful country, that same myth will be challenged and deconstructed a second time.”
Cabinet ministers under a cloud
Kenya’s new coalition government includes seven new ministries. Several Cabinet ministers, however, are believed to be behind past corruption scandals and post-election violence. They include:– William Ruto, minister of agriculture: Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights accuses him of threatening Kikuyu farmers who had settled on Kalenjin lands. Both militiamen and refugees displaced by the conflict say he incited violence. Ruto denies the allegations.– William ole Ntimama, minister of national heritage: A Masai leader, he has been accused of inciting violence against Kikuyu farmers in the Rift Valley. He denies the allegations.– Amos Kimunya, minister of finance: Just this month, he announced his resignation after parliament gave him a vote of no-confidence. Kimunya is believed to have participated in the secret sale of a government-owned luxury hotel to a Libyan investment group for less than half its value.– John Michuki, acting minister of finance: As the former minister for internal security, Michuki ordered raids on a Nairobi newspaper that had written extensively about government corruption and the presidents family affairs.