Giant Cabinet to be named today

Despite protests, Kenya’s largest cabinet is due to be named today, cementing a grand coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and the main opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

Mr Odinga will be the Prime Minister in the 40 member cabinet consisting of members of President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). The coalition is aimed at bringing to an end violence that erupted after disputed elections on December 27th last year and which has so far claimed 1,500 lives. A further 300,000 people were left homeless while about 10,000 others are believed to be refugees in Uganda and Tanzania. The coalition was the culmination of peace talks led by former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan.

However, civil society groups as well as Christian and Muslim representatives have condemned the 40 member cabinet as an extravagance that Kenya cannot afford. With each cabinet minister expected to earn Kshs1 million a month (US$16,100), the annual wage bill for the extra-sized cabinet will be Kshs504 million (US$8.1 million) according to the Daily Nation. Annual wages for assistant ministers will be Kshs456 million ($7.3 million).

The annual cost to the taxpayer of maintaining a 40 member cabinet will be over Kshs1 billion ($16 million) in a country with a crumbling road network, high unemployment, sporadic power supply and inadequate water supplies. Civil society groups point at Kenya’s annual per capita income of $320 saying that $16 million can be put into more productive uses.

Government spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, on Friday criticized local media for highlighting the cost of the proposed cabinet rather than focusing on the dividends gained from a negotiated political settlement. Diplomats, who had emphasized on the need for an inclusive political deal, are yet to comment on the super-sized cabinet but they are expected not to make an issue out of it for fear of antagonizing the protagonists.

No price is big enough to buy peace, so the saying goes. But with bitter ethnic rivalries still unresolved, a looming famine and inflation fueled by high oil prices, it remains to be seen whether the current calm in Kenya represents genuine reconciliation by its people or whether its the proverbial calm before the storm.

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