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MAKAU MUTUA

The end of reforms in Kenya

IN 2002, KENYANS rejected the ruinous 24-year rule of President Daniel arap Moi, one of Africa's last Cold War autocrats. Shockingly, one and half years later, President Mwai Kibaki, his successor, has repudiated political and economic reforms. His most senior aides have been linked to a wave of spectacular scandals in which millions of dollars may have been looted from the public purse. A dark cloud has settled over Kenya.

What has arrested Kenya's renaissance is a tale of perverted personal ambitions, ethnic demagoguery, and a political elite that has yet to internalize liberalism, democracy, and human rights. Political parties are not driven by ideology but the whims of party leaders and their quest for raw power.

It is the tragedy of Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition, the hastily cobbled party that ousted Moi's Kenya African National Union from power.

The Rainbow party was a coalition of two political forces, the National Alliance Party of Kenya headed by Kibaki, a collection of opposition parties that had faced down Moi for more than a decade, and the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Raila Odinga, a faction of Moi's party that bolted just before the 2002 elections after Moi refused to anoint Odinga as his successor. Moi instead chose Uhuru Kenyatta, a political novice and the scion of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's founding president, as his heir apparent.

The two groups joined on the promise that once elected president, Kibaki would share power with Odinga, who would become prime minister.

Kibaki's overwhelming victory over Kenyatta -- just under two-thirds of the vote -- was premised on a new democratic constitution, the war against corruption, and sweeping political and economic reforms. But Kibaki reneged on his promise to Odinga. The refusal to appoint Odinga premier became the catalyst for collapse of reforms in Kenya.

Odinga, a cunning political animal, has run circles around the Kibaki government, in which he remains a powerful minister. At the constitutional conference, he outmaneuvered President Kibaki's chief aide, justice minister Kiraitu Murungi, and prevailed upon the conference to adopt an unelected powerful premiership with an elected but ceremonial president. In parliament, Odinga has ganged up with Moi's party, now in the opposition, to block government bills. In short, Odinga has paralyzed the Kibaki government.

It is disappointing that Kibaki has largely failed to assert himself or offer visionary leadership. Obsessed with Odinga, an ethnic demagogue with no reformist agenda, the Kibaki government has blocked completion of the new constitution. Reminiscent of the Moi era, the government in July killed or injured several people as it violently suppressed public rallies demanding a new constitution. Virtually all reforms have been abandoned, including a truth commission to probe past atrocities, which a government task force recommended last year.   Continued...

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