Political Turmoil in Kenya Alarms Diplomats, Citizens

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Western diplomats in Nairobi have voiced concern about a resurgence of confrontational politics and high-level corruption in Kenya, a country that just 18 months ago moved out from under the shadow of former dictator Daniel arap Moi.

President Mwai Kibaki's administration has been facing violent street demonstrations over its refusal to enact a new constitution and its failure to push ahead with investigations into a multimillion dollar financial scandal allegedly involving cabinet ministers.

Kibaki has now missed two promised deadlines for the new constitution. He first assured Kenyans it would be enacted during his first 100 days in office, and later said it would be in place by June 30.

Exacerbating public anger, media reports in recent days have linked senior members of the government to financial scandals involving the procurement of state security equipment.

In an orchestrated move, seven key foreign embassies have urged the government to act and urged officials implicated in the scandals to resign to facilitate investigations.

"Development partners cannot be expected to put their taxpayers' funds at the service of Kenya if the country's own treasury and public resources are being tapped for private gain," the missions said in a joint statement.

"Concrete results on the promises made 18 months ago have been below expectations," said the diplomats, including those representing the U.S., European Union and Japan.

A specific complaint involved the president's decision to move his advisor on corruption, who was spearheading investigations into the security equipment affair, to a different government department. The transfer is widely seen as an attempt to interfere with the investigations.

Kibaki was elected after campaigning on a platform promising political reform and an anti-corruption agenda. Many ordinary Kenyans have expressed disappointment at the turn of events.

"We thought [corruption] was over but it's with us again," said Phillis Onyango, a 28-year-old mechanic.

Jane Nyawira, a high school teacher, said the government appeared to have lost the will to continue the anti-corruption crusade it initiated soon after winning general elections in December 2002.

"It's a big disappointment," she said. "We need a new political set up to eradicate this corruption monster."

Like many Kenyans, Nyawira said she had hoped that a new constitution would empower voters by giving them a greater say in how national affairs were conducted.

The new draft constitution was handed to the administration three months ago, but has yet to be signed into law.

The new document seeks to redistribute some of the powers of the presidency to the office of the prime minister, parliament, and the judiciary.

It also provides for the creation of regional governments, in a bid to ensure that regions are able to decide their development priorities and have a say in how resources are used.

Kibaki has been reluctant to implement the new constitution, arguing that it will create two centres of power, the presidency and the prime minister's office.

His failure to act has led to a split within the cabinet, which in turn prompted Kibaki to form a government of national unity, including members of the former Moi regime.

The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, William Bellamy, called that decision "a backward step in Kenya's democracy.""

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