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KIBAKI’ S CATCH 22

What lies ahead for Kibaki Presidency?

Published on January 20, 2008, 12:00 am

By Sunday Standard Team

What was billed to be the closest fought and thrilling election not only exploded into violence over disputed results, but also is redefining the country’s geo-political map. The bitterly fought contest, subsequent dispute over declared results and finally violence, has also upset the country’s inter-ethnic relations and traditional political alliances.

With the transformation of inter-ethnic relations, and the hardened positions adopted by Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement, another picture is also building up. History is repeating itself in the furious political battles between President Kibaki and ODM leader Mr Raila Odinga.

It rekindles the plummeting relations between the founding Father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and one of his one-time staunch supporters and first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in mid-1960s. Though the falling out did not result in fighting, it broke up the pre-Independence political alliance between Kenya’s largest two communities – the Kikuyu and Luo – from which the two come.

The Kibaki-Raila contest may not only widen the fissure between the two communities. Also along with it, the communities that supported each. It is this fissure that is the worry of the international mediators given the recent attack on a community perceived to have its presence beyond its traditional foothold. The biggest worry would be the emergence of Kenya’s version of Nigeria’s South and North.

Besides the implication on the political careers of Kibaki and Raila, the mediators will also be pondering not just on the danger of economic shutdown, the toll on the social fabric and danger of anarchy, but the future of Kenya. With two forces falling apart, focus will be on making both sides weigh what they have to lose, no matter what they make of their victory or defeat, if the polarisation intensifies.

Kibaki’s big task

But with President Kibaki’s team insisting it won fairly, and Raila’s side’s demand for transitional government and finally a re-run of presidential election, the task could be arduous.

But of immediate concern will be first, restoring peace, and putting a plan that would save the country from further slide to the precipice through inter-ethnic violence, and stemming isolation mainly by the 27 European Union States and the US.

Already, the EU Parliament has recommended to its members to stop aid to Kenya, until the political impasse’ is resolved.

But in the long term the eye will be on the hurdles President Kibaki may have to grapple with, particularly if the legitimacy of his government is challenged in Parliament where PNU does not have the comfort of numerical supremacy.

With credibility problems locally and abroad, the Government has a battle on its hands. Internationally, more members of the Government may have their visas cancelled, particularly if the EU maintains its stand that the elections fell below international and regional standards.

At home, the President is grappling with an uphill battle in a Parliament tilted against him and a nation divided in two unequal parts and upset by the scandal of the December 27 General Election.

“Because there are many who believe he was not elected and because of the bitterness after the election, the President may never really have the authority to do what he wanted,” a political activist, who consults with the Opposition, says.

“He will be restrained by the situation he walked into,” he adds.

In British House of Commons, Mr Edward Davey, a Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton rose to “thank the Government in their various public statements for not referring to “Mr Mwai Kibaki as the President”.

He then asked, “Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government still do not recognise Mr Kibaki as having been re-elected president? Did the Foreign Secretary share my concern when the US State Department, in the first crucial hours after the poll, rushed to accept the flawed election result? Has he raised the serious consequences of that critical error of judgement with the US Secretary of State?”

In response, Mr David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary state: “I can confirm that we have recognised no new Government in Kenya. In respect of the United States’ position, I spoke to the Secretary of State on December 30, or possibly 31.”

He added: “She made it absolutely clear to me that although the United States was happy to congratulate the Kenyan people on the way they had participated in the democratic process, it had issued no congratulation to an individual “winner”; that her concerns about the irregularities identified by the EU are serious and real; and that she shares our commitment to the spirit of compromise to which we referred in our joint statement and, critically, to the sharing of power.”

Mr Miliband warned of the risks of Kenya forfeiting international support if they fail to strike a compromise.

Germany wants EU aid suspended if the Government rejects international mediation. The United States has warned that the US would find it impossible to conduct “business as usual” in the present circumstances.

Locally and abroad, a build-up is taking shape that point to possibility of Kenya returning to the turbulent days of late 1970s, through the 1980s all the way to the 1990s if the current political crisis is not resolved.

A political solution appears remote. Raila insists that the presidential poll was rigged and international observers have described the vote count as “obviously flawed” and “plagued by irregularity”.

Recently, the President named a half of his Cabinet before the arrival of African Union chairman and Ghanaian President, Mr John Kufuor. Before President Kibaki named the Cabinet, Raila’s team put off planned demonstrations to give international mediation a chance.

At that time, Kufuor, who later handed over the mantle to former UN secretary general, who is expected around on Tuesday, flew in to try to bring Raila and Kibaki to the negotiating table. He did not succeed.

President Kibaki responded to Raila’s gesture by appointing 17 Cabinet ministers in what was interpreted as a slap in the face of foreign diplomats, who had pleaded with the President and Raila not to make any appointments or moves until the business of mediation had run its course.

With massive destruction and death, and a political solution not in sight, there are grim predictions that the country could be headed for harsh times economically and politically.

There are predictions that the economic ramifications of the disputed and discredited presidential elections could prove substantial.

The World Bank’s January forecast puts the GDP growth at 5.3 per cent this year, down from 6.3 per cent, last year.

The bank predicts the economy will slow further to 5.1 per cent, next year.

The Economist, in its latest Intelligence Unit forecast, says these figures are likely to be downgraded substantially to reflect the damage and disruption of the election period, poor rains and decline in tourism.

The Kenya Tourist Board projects that it will take about six months for the tourism industry to recover even if there is a quick resolution of the impasse.

KTB says that it took the industry five years to recover from the Likoni land clashes of 1997; the Nairobi terrorist bombing blamed on al-Qaida a year later, and another bomb blast at the Coast’s Paradise Hotel in 2002.

Donors are under pressure to cut financial assistance. But the US has assured it does not plan to cut aid, despite plans by other partners to do so.

State Department spokesman, Mr Sean McCormack, made this assurance in response to a threat on Wednesday by 14 donors, including the United States, to reduce their assistance to the Government unless progress is made in resolving the crisis.

“If there is any discussion about some of our assistance programmes in Kenya, it hasn’t begun yet,” McCormack said at a Press briefing in Washington. He added that the US is, in any event, unlikely to make any cuts in the large portion of aid to Kenya that is devoted to humanitarian programmes.

But in Europe, it is a different tone. Last week, the European Union said it could cut its aid over disputed elections.

“It’s difficult to continue the same level of budgetary support, if we see that the election had not been respected,” EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel told a meeting of the European Parliament’s development committee.

“We are not in a situation we can call business as usual by any means,” Michel said. “We have to adapt our relations.”

The EU provided 290 million euros in aid to Kenya between 2002 and last year. A further 383 million euros were planned for this year, through to 2013.

Government officials argue the country no longer depended on donor support and has been self-reliant in the last five years, financing up to 85 per cent of its budget from local tax collections.

But disruption of businesses, closure of offices, and destruction of property and displacement could undermine the country’s tax collection base.

There are also fears some businesses could close shop leading to unemployment and resentment.

The Government had planned to borrow from the capital markets. Before the poll the Government had said it hoped to exploit its favourable credit rating of B+ awarded by rating agency Standard and Poor’s — to borrow money internationally.

The Economist’s Intelligence Unit predictions say that it will almost certainly not be feasible in the first half of the year, although foreign borrowing may be possible towards the end of 2008 “if there is a quick return to normality.”

“The cost of borrowing abroad is likely to rise, the overvalued Kenyan shilling will fall, tourism has already been badly hit and foreign aid may be cut back. Planned privatisations will get greater scrutiny; some may falter. There may not be enough money to keep Kibaki’s promise of free secondary education. But breaking it would sorely undermine him.”

Hope for continued EU funding now hangs on the outcome of Annan’s efforts.

A EU official was last week quoted saying that if Annan’s mediation failed the European Union would consider tougher steps.

“We are working on an options paper, all the possible scenarios are on the table, including the possibility of suspending aid, and of sanctions,” a news agency quoted an official saying.

The official said EU ambassadors are to begin working on those options on Tuesday, when Annan arrives.

Michel, the EU Development Commissioner yesterday shuttled between separate talks with Kibaki, Kalonzo and ODM. But last week he said he had failed to make contact with Kibaki.

“I have attempted to contact him in vain for days. I get to his front office, but I’m never transferred to the President – either the line goes dead or he does not pick up the phone,” he told the lawmakers.

Kenya’s ambassador to Belgium, where the EU headquarters are based, Mr Marx Kahende, told the same meeting that a negotiated solution was possible.

“We remain optimistic that ongoing efforts, including the engagement by Mr Kofi Annan … will yield an acceptable solution,” Kahende said. “Democracy can’t be built in a void … Maybe Nato forces are required, I don’t know,” Reuters quoted the ambassador saying.

Back in Kenya, Annan’s arrival is being awaited with a mixture of relief and doubt. After the collapse of talks that were to be spearheaded by Kufuor, Opposition leaders privately believe that the peace talks present a road map to nowhere, although they are willing to give them a chance.

Some go further and describe them as a plot by Kibaki, backed by the United States, to help cool down emotions while business continues as usual in Government.

Some observers say Annan’s mediation may have “a little more weight” than Kufuor’s. But the leaders are not keen to postpone their plans of action for the sake of Annan-led talks or any other because they are convinced it won’t amount to much.

“A Head of State like Kufuor is restrained by several factors when he approaches a fellow Head of State. Among the restraints is diplomatic etiquette,” a political activist told The Sunday Standard.

“A Head of State cannot face another and tell him, ‘You stole the elections”. That is more so in Africa, where nothing is clear in politics. Next time, it may be Kufuor seeking mediation from President Kibaki. You can never tell in Africa. That’s why Kufuor could only do so much,” he added.

Annan, some Opposition leaders say, could have more leeway “to tell Kibaki off” although others view his efforts as “part of the strategy to buy time”.

Casting even more suspicion is the entry of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who is also said to be keen to resolve the impasse.

With talk of Ugandan soldiers having crossed into Kenya to help Kibaki stem the tide, some Opposition leaders say Museveni cannot be an honest broker.

Others argue that Museveni “has no democratic credentials,” having come to power through the power of the gun, before manipulating the constitution to hang onto power.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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