Cabinet power-shaing deal ends long deadlock
By Jeffrey Gettleman
New York Times News Service
NAIROBI, Kenya — President Mwai Kibaki announced a new — and enormous — national unity cabinet here on Sunday, ending weeks of anxious deadlock that had threatened to plunge Kenya back into violence.
Allies of Kibaki, who was declared the winner of a deeply flawed election in December, retained the most powerful ministries, like finance and foreign affairs, but the leading opposition party managed to get some major posts, including local government and agriculture.
And as anticipated, the top opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who claims to have won the presidential vote, was appointed prime minister.
The two sides were under mounting pressure from foreign governments, especially the United States, and from Kenyans to strike a deal that would end the bitter, and often dangerous, atmosphere that has hung over this country since December.
While the voting itself went peacefully, the country exploded in violence afterward with supporters of the government and of the opposition raging against each other. More than 1,000 people were killed, hundreds of thousands were displaced and Kenya’s image as one of Africa’s most stable and promising countries was seriously damaged.
In late February, the government and the opposition agreed to share power, but they haggled over who would be named to each post.
On Sunday, it took Kibaki more than 10 minutes to read aloud the list of ministers and assistant ministers, totaling 94 people, nearly half of Parliament. It is the biggest cabinet Kenya has ever had.
The opposition party said it was disappointed that it had not gotten as many powerful positions as it wanted.
"But we decided that it was more important to get a government in place," said Salim Lone, Odinga’s spokesman. "There was too much chaos and hunger and restlessness in the country."
Opposition supporters who said they were angry about the delay in forming a cabinet rioted in several towns across Kenya last week, and Lone credited that outburst with moving the process along.
While jubilation greeted the power-sharing agreement in February, with crowds cheering in the streets, this time the mood was more muted and even skeptical.
"I don’t see this lasting long," said Wambua Kilonzo, a lawyer in Nairobi, the capital. "There’s been too much bad blood already. Everything that has been done so far has only been done by the force of the arm."