After the horrendous violence that followed Kenya’s flawed general election in 2007, the mediation of Kofi Annan, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, was acclaimed for pushing the two main political parties into a coalition government. This at least stopped the bloodshed. Now, however, the deal is unravelling—fast. At a recent summit feuding government ministers could not even agree on what to discuss in order to find common ground. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of the prime minister, Raila Odinga, stomped out before the meeting had even begun, accusing President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) of blocking the agenda.
Among the foreign diplomats looking on, optimists refer to the squabbling coalition as an “unconsummated marriage”. The less charitable say Kenya does not have a functioning executive at all, just an unholy alliance of fierce rivals. A schedule of constitutional, electoral, judicial, security, land and economic reforms was laid out in the original agreement between the two parties. A domestic tribunal to judge those responsible for the post-election mayhem was supposed to be set up and a truth commission established. Yet more than a year later the ODM and PNU have failed to agree on any of these issues.
New corruption scandals, confined to no party, are regularly revealed by Kenya’s papers. With so many senior figures from the main parties co-opted into the government—which has 94 ministers and deputies, each earning over $15,000 a month—Kenya has become almost a one-party state. Ministers constantly squabble over pay, protocol, seniority and even who gets the best rooms at government get-togethers. The churches, NGOs and foreign diplomats are left to play the role of opposition, cajoling and threatening from the sidelines.
The infighting and bickering have also confounded hopes for measures to tackle the causes of the post-election violence, or even the country’s increasing gang violence. For example, Mr Odinga backed calls for the resignation of the soldier turned chief of the police, Major-General Hussein Ali, after he had been heavily criticised by human-rights groups and the UN over the activities of police death-squads. But Mr Kibaki, who appointed Mr Ali, has refused to let him go, despite an agreement to have a civilian head of the police. This week clashes in central Kenya between villagers and gang members of a criminal sect known as the Mungiki, who belong to the Kikuyu group, Kenya’s biggest, left another 40 or so people dead.
Parliament reconvened this week. The next elections are not due until 2012, but so grave is the impasse that politicians are already attending to their political futures rather than present troubles. Martha Karua, who resigned as justice minister on April 6th in protest at Mr Kibaki’s decision to appoint judges without consulting her, has said she will run for president. She gives press interviews, addresses crowds and lambasts the government she so recently abandoned as if a national poll were due for next week. Ms Karua is popular because she gives voice to the disgust felt by ordinary Kenyans towards their politicians. Her resignation is seen as a rare display of principle.
Unfortunately for Kenya, all that holds the coalition together now is mutual greed and pressure from abroad. Despite everything, foreign donor governments are nonetheless determined that the coalition should not collapse entirely. They believe any government is better than none, fearing yet more violence.
Mr Annan may intervene again. Within a few months, unless the domestic courts deal with the matter properly, he promises to hand over to the International Criminal Court the names of ten people considered by a special Kenyan commission to be responsible for the post-election violence. The removal of these figures from Kenya’s politics, and even from the cabinet itself, might give a useful jolt to the country’s dysfunctional political system.