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Kenya's power-sharing report card: 'unsatisfactory'

One year after ethnic violence tore the African nation apart, the coalition government is moving slowly – or not at all – to address the problems.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / March 13, 2009

ELDORET CAMPER: Rosana Kathure, a widow displaced by Kenya's fighting last year, burns pieces of her tent to cook her food.

Scott Baldauf/The Christian Science Monitor

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NAIROBI, KENYA

When Kenya's grand coalition government formed last year – a kind of forced marriage of bitter political enemies – Kenyan voters had high hopes for what their new government had vowed to achieve: rewrite the country's constitution, begin land reform, arrest perpetrators of postelection violence, and reconcile ethnic groups who seemed close to a tribal war.

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But after a year, the Kenyan government has little to show for itself.

Kenya's top politicians are mired in scandal. Starvation looms for millions of Kenyans after government officials sold off the country's food reserves for a profit to Southern Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have been forced out of relief camps to return home, without any attempt to ensure that mutually suspicious communities don't fight again.

Rather than pursue fellow politicians who may have instigated violence after the Dec. 27, 2007, elections, parliament has passed a new media law that muzzles critical news reports. And a new constitution remains a promise unfulfilled.

Even members of government are unhappy.

"In my view, we have basically failed," says Jakoyo Midiwo, chief parliamentary whip for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), one of the two main parties in the coalition government. "We may have achieved a certain level of peace in the country, but underneath that, there is nothing."

This is not a good time for failure. Kenya was becoming one of those countries that other African nations model themselves after – with stable governance, decent courts, high levels of education, and robust independent watchdog activist groups – when postelection violence set rival parties on a dangerous path in December 2007.

Painstaking negotiations, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, brought Kenya back from the brink. But the resulting coalition government seems unable to pass even the most basic of reforms. Ordinary Kenyans and experts alike say that if this opportunity is wasted, Kenyans will suffer, and violence will erupt once more.

"Kofi Annan has bought us three years of surface stability, without putting in structures for implementation," says François Grignon. "There were achievements. The violence stopped. The government was formed. You have a prime minister and the setup is working, and although sometimes painful to watch, you see a willingness to make it work. But the politicians, they need to show that they are making progress."

If the government does nothing to resolve issues of land ownership and the reintegration of communities torn apart by violence, observers say that these issues will re-erupt at the next electoral cycle of 2011. "You will be creating an even bigger problem for 2011," says Mr. Grignon.

The National Unity Government that formed after Mr. Annan's mediation had a set agenda for its first years in power. While some of these goals were achieved immediately – including stopping the violence, restoring basic political rights, and meeting the humanitarian needs of those displaced – others have been put on a much slower track.

Despite a year's worth of meetings by key political leaders, Kenya is far from having a new constitution. Perhaps more dangerous, Kenyan politicians have done little to address the highly charged issues of land ownership, poverty, and inequality, which fueled the postelection violence to such high levels.

C is for corruption

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