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POLITICS-KENYA: Kibaki Spoils Reconciliation Bid

Analysis by Najum Mushtaq

NAIROBI, Jan 8 2008 (IPS) - When Kenya’s controversially re-elected president, Mwai Kibaki, appeared on national television to address the nation Tuesday evening, hopes were that he would address the humanitarian crisis his country faces in the wake of post- election tribal violence and hold out an olive branch to his rival Raila Odinga.

It was a shock to see him announce his cabinet for the next five years instead. It was redolent of his hastily taking oaths of office before the Electoral Commission of Kenya had formally certified the election results.

"Kenya is bracing itself for another spurt of political violence and hatred," a businessman close to Odinga told IPS.

"Kibaki has chosen to put himself and his cronies before the national interest. The result could be more tragic than the violence already witnessed in the post-election violence," the businessman said.

Sources told IPS that fighting has already erupted in Kisumu, a stronghold of Odinga&#39s Luo tribe, and in Mathare, Dandore and other parts of Nairobi.

Kibaki’s Tuesday address will add fuel to the fire that has been burning in Kenya’s multicultural, multiethnic countryside since Dec. 30 last year when he declared himself president even though his Party of National Unity (PNU) was roundly trounced in the parliamentary elections.

Following Kibaki’s declaration, the Kikuyus – Kibaki’s tribe – were targeted in a wave of unprecedented violence. In turn, the Luo tribe and Odinga’s other allies faced attacks of vengeance in Kikuyu dominated areas.

What ensued for the next week and a half was violence that evoked images of the Rwandan genocide more than a decade ago.

Prodded and pushed by the international community – notably U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and African Union (AU) Chairman John Kufuor of Ghana – it seemed as if Kenya’s political elite was waking up from the violent nightmare that has haunted the country for the last ten days.

Kibaki and Odinga had agreed to have a meeting Friday to start talks on restoring a semblance of sanity amid tribal violence that has claimed 1,000 lives and displaced 250,000 people.

With the announcement of half the new cabinet ministers – the other half, Kibaki said, would be named later – any chances of a reconciliation process getting underway seems doomed.

Kibaki has failed to show the statesmanship, sensitivity and grace required to douse the burning flames of ethnic hatred. Instead he has chosen to cling on to power that the voters had denied his party.

In an apparent rebuke to Odinga’s conciliatory gestures and his acceptance of international mediation to resolve the crisis, Kibaki has chosen Kalonzo Musyoka as his vice-president. It is significant to note here that Musyoka heads the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K) which is a breakaway faction of the ODM proper led by Odinga, whose members of parliament number around 100 in the newly elected parliament of 210 members.

Musyoka – who placed third in the race for the presidency between Odinga and Kibaki – advised Kibaki on Sunday to postpone announcing his cabinet so as to avoid further confrontation and to give mediation a chance.

Other members of Kibaki’s cabinet also demonstrated a blatant disregard of the grave situation in Kenya.

The official leader of the opposition in Kibaki’s previous presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta, a fellow Kikuyu, has been given a ministerial post along with John Michuki, a Kibaki confidant and a controversial figure believed to be orchestrating his bid for re-election at every cost.

The announcement of a cabinet at a time when the country is reeling from the trauma of sudden and unforeseen violence is jarring to say the least. It is especially provoking at a time when Kufuor was about to start his mediation effort – a move welcomed by Odinga and to which Kibaki’s spokesman Raphael Tuju had agreed to be a part of.

Odinga’s supporters have reacted angrily to Kibaki’s latest move. "We had given a chance to mediation and talks by calling off the Tuesday protest rally. What we get in return is a cabinet by a president whose very election is in dispute," says John Dolla, a Luo businessman in Nairobi.

"Instead of reciprocating Odinga’s gestures for peace and reconciliation," said another Nairobi resident, "Kibaki has gone ahead with plans to consolidate his presidency. This is outrageous and a clear provocation."

In the prevalent circumstances it is hard to see how international mediation can work. Kibaki’s national address to announce half his cabinet has pre- empted the AU peace bid and infuriated the opposition camp.

Odinga is unlikely to sit across the negotiating table from a president he and other international observers deem to be unfairly elected. What Kufuor’s mission can accomplish in this vitiated atmosphere remains to be seen.

That this has all happened after a day of elections that was peaceful and calm despite the huge turnout and close race is truly a damning reflection on the political class of Kenya.

They have failed their people who had voted for change through peaceful means.

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