Giant Cabinet finally named

After a week of apprehension across Kenya, a 40 member cabinet was finally unveiled yesterday marking the beginning of a coalition between two political camps that have divided the country.

President Mwai Kibaki and the new Prime Minister, Raila Odinga launched the cabinet after a weekend of consultations. The coalition cabinet is the culmination of mediation talks between President Kibaki and Mr Odinga following disputed presidential elections in December that led to the deaths of 1,500 people and the displacement of at least 300,000. However, reactions from the public remain muted due to perceptions by Mr Odinga’s supporters that President Kibaki and his PNU party have kept all the influential ministerial posts.

The cabinet, expected to have been unveiled last Sunday (April 6th) was delayed due to wrangling over the sharing of such key cabinet posts as finance, defence, internal security, energy, local government, transport and cabinet affairs. President Kibaki’s PNU has kept all these posts except Local Government, which went to Odinga’s running mate in the 2007 polls, Mr Musalia Mudavadi. Mr Mudavadi also gets the post of Deputy Prime Minister, alongside Uhuru Kenyatta who is the son of Kenya’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta. Unlike Mr Odinga, Mudavadi is trusted by Kibaki’s allies as a moderate.

Civil society groups, Churches and Muslim groups have criticized the giant cabinet as an extravagance that the country cannot afford. A cabinet minister in Kenya earns Kshs1 million a month (US$16,130) and is provided with police bodyguards, a SUV and a chauffeured Mercedes. Many of the 40 ministries have at least two assistant ministers with slightly smaller perks. Meanwhile, half the population lives in poverty with inadequate healthcare, poor housing and sanitation and little hopes of employment. The average Kenyan in the rural areas can expect to live on $350 a year.

The United States, European Union and the African Union say that inspite of its size, the giant cabinet provides the only hope of a lasting peace in Kenya. Through the coalition, its thought that all major ethnic groups will be represented in government. The US ambassador has been instrumental in getting Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to the negotiating table.

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