Staying the Course: Post-Election Kenyan Politics

Article excerpt

After a shocking month of bloodletting that erupted in the wake of the December 2007 elections, Kenya appears to have recovered well. A new coalition government now represents both sides in the poll dispute. Meanwhile, safari-goers have returned in droves to East Africa's tourism mecca, gazing at gazelles just miles from the sites of January's murders and gang-rapes. But the peace may be just a veneer--a temporary solution that fails to resolve the underlying issues of political competition and corruption. Kenya has achieved stability by mutually bribing its leaders, an arrangement that has led to the most expensive government in national history. And its political class--the same corrupt bunch who have been in power for decades--do not seem to have learned any lessons from the recent crisis. Now out of the international spotlight, Kenya has returned to its old, increasingly unacceptable politics.

Indeed, Kenya's current government is a reprise of the group that won elections in 2002 under the banner of the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition, liberating the country from 24 years of dictatorial rule under Daniel Arap Moi. Then, current president Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga united in an attempt to defeat Moi's successor, signing a memorandum of understanding that gave Kibaki the presidency and Odinga the prime ministry. But Kibaki marginalized Odinga after the elections, stacking the cabinet with allies and consolidating power in the presidency.

Kibaki and Odinga next met in 2007, as rivals contesting the presidential elections. Exit polling gave Odinga a sizable lead, but the official tallies--which were disputed by independent observers--handed victory to Kibaki. Odinga protested, and the resulting violence between his Luo tribesmen and Kibaki's Kiduyu filled television screens around the world. Only in late February did the two sides, led in negotiations by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, agree to a power-sharing agreement. As in 2002, Kibaki would remain president, and Odinga would fill the newly-created position of Prime Minister. Unlike the previous election, however, Kibaki has kept to his word, and political disagreement has been muffled by a huge expansion in government privileges. The cabinet ballooned to a record-high 93 ministers, and government officials enjoy an untaxed salary of US$10,000 per month. It is an uncomfortable peace, with squabbles on everything from constitutional reform to speaking privileges--but so far it has held.

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Unfortunately, Kenya's poor have reaped little from the reconciliation of their politicians. Kenya is one of the ten most unequal countries in the world, with a small coterie of crony capitalists growing wealthy on tourism revenues derived from Kenya's long-term stability and its status as the "pride of Africa." Meanwhile, poor Kenyans of all ethnicities are crowded into the filthy, dangerous slums of Nairobi, or the neglected outer provinces of the country. …