Kenya’s giant cabinet met for the first time today with the President and Prime Minister vowing to present a united front to a people coming to terms with violent ethnic conflict.
President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga promised to work together in tackling poverty, impending hunger and other economic difficulties currently facing the country. President Kibaki called for unity and collective responsibility within the 40 member cabinet. “President Kibaki is head of state of the Republic of Kenya not of a political party,” said Prime Minister Odinga, “and I am the Prime Minister for the Republic of Kenya, not of a political party.”
President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga were bitter rivals in last December’s General Elections which ended without a clear winner between the two. Ethnic rivalries between their supporters erupted into clashes that left an estimated 1,500 dead and 350,000 homeless. International mediation between January and March this year led to the formation of a giant coalition between the parties of Kibaki and Raila. Nevertheless, the coalition remains shaky and today’s meeting is meant to be a bonding session.
There are differences within the coalition over government policy in the immediate future. The tensions emanate from the differing campaign promises made by Kibaki and Raila’s parties during the presidential campaigns last year. Just this week, the government launched an operation to begin sending the victims of ethnic clashes back to their former homes despite resistance from within the giant coalition. The return of the refugees is pegged on improved relations between the various ethnic groups loyal to either Kibaki or Raila.
Ethnic rivalries within Kenya intensified with presidential campaigns last year. While Kibaki preached the merits of Kenya’s current centralized government, Raila and his ODM party proposed a loose federation based on Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups. Raila argued that Kibaki’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu have come to dominate Kenya’s economy due to their numbers. Raila was popular among ethnic groups such as the Kalenjin, Luo, Luhya and the Coastal tribes because his federalist system would have given greater opportunities to people within a particular region. President Kibaki and his PNU party condemned ODM’s mode of federalism as an attempt to disenfranchise the Kikuyu, who happen to have migrated to all of Kenya’s regions.
Now that the formerly warring protagonists are in the same government, they have found it necessary to “harmonize” their campaign promises.
If the giant cabinet is to survive, then much more harmonization needs to take place among the various personalities. The future of Kenya depends on it.