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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 09:23 GMT
Corruption haunts Kenya's leader
By Gray Phombeah
BBC, Nairobi

For Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, the last three weeks must have felt like a shadow passing over his grave.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
High hopes for President Kibaki have been replaced with frustration

This is the man who swept to power two years ago on an anti-corruption ticket - riding a wave of euphoria after years of rising poverty and individual greed.

His electoral victory ended former president Daniel arap Moi's rule, blamed for instituting a culture of graft and dictatorship that crippled Kenya's economic development and stunted political life for almost a quarter of a century.

But the spectre of high-level corruption has now returned with a vengeance to haunt Kibaki's own coalition government - leaving his cabinet divided and his leadership wounded.

It came in the wake of allegations that corruption has cost Kenya $1bn - nearly a fifth of its state budget - under the Kibaki administration.

The allegations went on to reinforce the increasingly widespread perception of Mr Kibaki and his inner circle as a nest of power-hungry corrupt leaders as bad as those under Mr Moi.

Aid suspended

The new corruption crisis was sparked by a speech at a dinner party by the British high commissioner in Kenya, Sir Edward Clay.

He bemoaned what he described as the "massive looting" of public funds by senior officials of the Kibaki administration.

John Githongo, President Mwai Kibaki's former anti corruption advisor

The UK envoy told his stunned audience that he had handed the Kenyan authorities a dossier of 20 dubious contracts and allegedly crooked procurement ventures - only six months after complaining that corrupt Kenyan ministers were "eating like gluttons" and "vomiting on the shoes of foreign donors".

A few days later, Kenya's leading anti-graft official John Githongo resigned, saying he was no longer able to continue serving the government of Kenya.

The US and German governments then acted, announcing that they were suspending all of their aid to Kenya's anti-graft agencies - several million dollars.

The European Union and Japan also warned that their aid might be jeopardised if Kenya did not put its house in order.

In response, ministers allied to President Kibaki launched a vicious personal attack on Sir Edward, accusing him of lying. The ministers cited several inquiry commissions and anti-graft agencies set up by the government as clear indication that the Kibaki government was committed to fighting graft.

Away from diplomatic circles, the coalition government edged closer to collapse when four senior members of the Kibaki cabinet launched a stinging attack on his administration, urging him to sack ministers implicated in the new corruption to redeem the image of his government.

Bitter battle

It was the latest in a series of setbacks for President Kibaki since his National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) won a landslide victory in the December 2002 elections.

From the moment of his swearing-in ceremony, cracks in the new leadership - brought about by the jumble of egos, agendas and parties making up the Rainbow Alliance - began to show as coalition partners accused President Kibaki of going back on jobs promises when he named his new team of ministers.

At the same time, Kibaki's laid-back style of government - partly blamed on injuries he sustained in a car crash on a campaign trail in 2002 - did not help matters.

His aloofness and his hands-off approach unwittingly gave the impression of a leadership in limbo for much of his two-year presidency.

His aloofness and his hands-off approach unwittingly gave the impression of a leadership in limbo for much of his two-year presidency

It fuelled a growing view that he was unsuited for high office.

His critics say he failed to end the bitter internal struggle between the main two factions of the Coalition - his National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Raila Odinga, seen by many as the coalition's strongman who delivered the opposition's victory in 2002 elections.

Even more dangerously for Mr Kibaki, say local analysts, was the way he allowed two ministers allied to him - Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi and Internal Security Minister Chris Murungaru - to run the government machine and antagonise other coalition partners.

Mr Murungaru's ministry, together with that of the Finance Ministry, is now at the centre of several suspect government deals.

Corruption crisis

Two of these involve the procurement of passport equipment and police forensic science labs.

Back in March last year, a sharp rift within the coalition government over a new constitution seeking to curb President Kibaki's power almost brought the government to the brink of collapse.

It prompted the government to officially withdraw from the conference convened to write a new constitution.

In an act of defiance, most of the 629 delegates - including three cabinet ministers - went ahead and voted to trim presidential powers against the government's wishes.

Facing renewed opposition from Kibaki's allies, the constitutional reform process has since then remained stalled.

Responding to the new corruption crisis, President Kibaki last week announced a cabinet reshuffle - switching his ally Chris Murungaru from internal security ministry to transport - a move donors and local critics termed too little, too late.

Death sentence?

Then, six former senior officials were put on trial on corruption charges.

President Kibaki says he has not lost the political will to fight corruption.

But demanding more blood, critics say the accused were mere small fish.

Adding further pressure on the president to act quickly to curb high level corruption in his government, the British government announced that they would enforce a travel ban on Kenyan ministers and businessmen implicated in corruption.

Media houses, religious leaders and NGOs have also been applying their own pressure, arguing that ministers tainted by corruption should be dismissed while investigations are conducted.

Some have even called for Mr Kibaki to step down.

With his government now looking weakened, his friends and foes seem to agree that the man elected as a crusader against corruption appears increasingly overwhelmed by the issue.

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