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Kenya political crisis: Kofi Annan to the rescue – again?

A corruption scandal threatens to tear apart the fragile coalition government, prompting fear of a return to the ethnic violence that killed 1,300 and displaced hundreds of thousands after the disputed elections of December 2007.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / February 15, 2010

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the ceremony for the Global Statesmanship Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos January 29. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi called on Annan to return to Kenya to help resolve the political crisis.

Michael Buholzer/Reuters


Johannesburg, South Africa

Kenya’s fractious government is facing its biggest challenge as its two top leaders – President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – face off in a corruption scandal.

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At issue is the simple question of who is in charge, and whether the shaky, bickering coalition government will hold together long enough to pass a new constitution that will make such political crises a thing of the past. If the government falls apart, the consequences could be severe, including a return of the ethnic violence that killed 1,300 and displaced hundreds of thousands after the elections of December 2007.

“This is the biggest test for the coalition government,” says Wafula Okumu, a researcher on East Africa for the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa. “This coalition government was always intended to be a transitional government, and it is not viable for the future.” But if the government falls apart now, he adds, before Kenya’s parliament creates a new constitution and new system for credible elections, the country could descend into “another round of violence.”

Once a regional model

Long considered the most stable, most functional country in East Africa – with a prosperous agricultural sector, a multiparty democracy with a vibrant free press, and with a port and highway and rail system that supplies most of its neighbors with food and fuel – Kenya has fast turned into a country that seems perpetually on the brink of political collapse.

As the base for most United Nations and aid organizations working in East Africa, including in Sudan, Kenya has become too important to the international community to simply let fail. But getting Kenya’s political leaders to get along – as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan did in January and February of 2008 – has become an increasingly difficult process.

The current crisis began last week, as an investigation revealed that top members of Kibaki’s Cabinet had sold off the nation’s food stocks of maize at the height of a drought, and had diverted millions of dollars of US and British direct aid intended for Kenyan schools. The results of the investigation were intended to remain unpublished, but leaks to the media showed that the scandal mars members of both Prime Minister Odinga’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement, as well as President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity. Agriculture Minister William Ruto belongs to the ODM, while Education Minister Sam Ongeri belongs to the PNU.