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Has Kenya's power-sharing worked?

Inter-tribal post-election conflict in Western Kenya, 1 March 2008
At least, the violent clashes have stopped

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

A year after an accord was signed in Kenya paving the way for a unique political partnership, the country is deadlocked, its people despondent and lawmakers are losing public support by the day.

The sense of frustration is almost tangible.

The good news is at least Kenya is at peace. The bad news is that many question how long it will last.

The coalition government brought with it unrealistic expectations but even the most grounded of observers have become irritated by its lack of progress.

All sides seem to have their snouts in the trough
John Githongo
Former anti-corruption tsar

Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General who brokered the peace deal, accused Kenya's leaders of "losing momentum" in delivering the badly needed reforms to address Kenya's underlying problems, and failing to face up to the big decisions needed to bring about change.

The grand coalition's most notable achievement is "to have remained intact", according to John Githongo the country's former anti-corruption tsar.

But its most efficient activity has been to reinforce a culture of impunity.

"There seems to have been a very democratic distribution of spoils - with these latest corruption scandals, you can't say one side is more corrupt than the other, all sides seem to have their snouts in the trough," Mr Githongo says.

Cavalier

The "eating" metaphor plays on the lips of Kenyans wherever you go. "They're eating together," is how they dismiss their leaders now.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Raila Odinga's ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) has been marred by an alleged maize scandal, whilst President Mwai Kibaki's PNU (Party of National Unity) stands accused of doing dodgy deals around oil.

The constitutional review process... appears to have ground to a halt, deadlocked by committee inertia

Two big political blocks sharing power and barely an opposition in parliament. It doesn't do much for public confidence.

No Kenyan leader has been found guilty of corruption and political parties often use allegations of graft to muddy their rivals' names.

Last week an opinion poll from the Steadman group articulated this sense of public frustration, with 70% of respondents saying the Kibaki-Raila administration had achieved "nothing" in its first year in office.

This is quite an indictment of a government of national unity, tasked with the enormous responsibility of rehabilitating a country that came so close to civil war.

So why have Kenya's leaders been so cavalier?

Running circles

Perhaps it is because they can and because the institutions that should hold government in check have been tainted over the years.

Perhaps, too, it is because the two most important men in Kenyan politics have been able to forge some kind of working relationship, but have left their foot soldiers behind.

In this Jan. 24, 2008 file picture Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, left, shake hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga, right, in Nairobi, Kenya.
Kibaki and Odinga are accused of achieving nothing in the past year

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga may be running the country, but their legislators appear to be running circles around them - positioning themselves for the next elections in 2012.

When the two leaders were bundled into a room and pressured to consent to a joint administration last year, they were signing up to a string of important promises designed to prevent such wholesale violence happening again: Land reform; constitutional change; judicial and security sector reform; tackling youth unemployment, and addressing ethnic tensions. Yet progress has been pathetically slow, say critics.

The constitutional review process - a key plank that sealed the political pact - appears to have ground to a halt, deadlocked by committee inertia.

There is still no head of an interim electoral commission, and perhaps most alarming of all, attempts to push forward a tribunal to try senior figures suspected of war crimes, have become a hostage to political fortune.

Extraordinary

Like an errant student that has failed to complete his assignment, Kenya has been given a two-month extension by Kofi Annan's team, to knuckle down and start delivering.

Top priority is to establish a Special Court, with international oversight, to try cases of war crimes amid allegations that ministers, legislators and businessmen funded and fomented the violence.

Failure to do this leaves the prospect of suspects being sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

That would be an admission that Kenya is incapable of dealing with problems in its own back yard.

Women prepare food outside their tent in an internally displaced persons camp in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, Nairobi,Kenya. Monday. Dec. 15 2008.
The Red Cross says tens of thousands of Kenyans are still homeless

To many it seems extraordinary that a country with no shortage of talent, a country which is the biggest economy in East Africa with billions in foreign investment, is having to look for a lifeline abroad to tackle its troubles.

But it is a measure of the level of mistrust there is for Kenya's leaders and the institutions that are meant to protect its citizens.

Kenya's MPs rejected the legislation that would have paved the way for a Special Tribunal in a spectacular show of disdain.

Many didn't even turn up to vote - that for some was a boycott of a system they no longer trust. Was it an intellectual decision MPs made to reject the idea of a Special Tribunal, or a careful political calculation?

Probably a bit of both.

Kenya has an abysmal record of protecting key witnesses, judges can be bribed and many feel the country simply wouldn't be up to the job.

But insiders in parliament say that on the day of the crucial vote, away from the TV cameras, much political horse-trading was going on.

For some MPs a vote for The Hague was a convenient delaying tactic, at least until the 2012 elections.

That is why there is now renewed pressure on President Kibaki to return the bill to parliament and start all over again.

Reality check

That sense of political inertia is a huge betrayal for people like Jane Wanjiku, who is among the tens of thousands the Red Cross say are still homeless, following the clashes.

People like her once lived in modest homes.

It wasn't President Kibaki who burnt my house down, it wasn't Raila Odinga, it wasn't even my member of parliament, it was my neighbour
Jane Wanjiku
They are now forced to survive in cramped tents.

Jane wants international oversight of any trial that tests impunity and rigorous punishment for those who funded and fomented the violence.

For her that can only come at The Hague. She has absolutely no faith in the system here.

But she also wants recognition from the leadership that Kenya still hasn't healed. The ethnic tensions, that were shaped and used by politicians last year, still fester.

"It wasn't President Kibaki who burnt my house down, it wasn't Raila Odinga, it wasn't even my member of parliament, it was my neighbour."

Jane may have to wait a long time for any justice to be done.

"Kenyans no longer take their peace for granted," observes John Githongo.

That in itself is a good thing. The Kenyan newspapers have exposed that sense of indignation and politicians of every hue are quick to exploit it.

But Kenyans have an enormous capacity to forgive, and unless that sense of outrage can be harnessed and channelled productively, there are real fears that an opportunity for reform will be lost.

As one Kenyan blog remarks:

"2007 was an election year in Kenya, 2008 was the aftermath, 2009 is a reality check."

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