Kenya: Kibaki Names New Kenya Cabinet

Nairobi — The new Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, named his 22-member cabinet Friday, handing out the lion's share of senior posts to his opposition allies and defectors from the rival former governing Kenya African National Union (Kanu), the party Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition roundly defeated in elections last week.

Still confined to a wheelchair, as he recuperates from a road accident during the election campaign, Kibaki announced his new team at a news conference at State House in the capital, Nairobi.

As widely predicted, Kibaki confirmed as his vice-president Michael Kijana Wamalwa, a British-trained lawyer. Wamalwa was a key player in Narc's historic election victory, on 27 December, over Kanu, the legacy of outgoing President Daniel arap Moi and his hand picked successor, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Despite his impeccable legal and political credentials in the opposition (under the banner of Ford-Kenya), Wamalwa, 58, is reported to have had a more chequered business career.

Kenya's new finance minister was named as David Mwiraria. For five years, he held the shadow finance portfolio and faces the daunting challenge of reviving the battered economy. Mwiraria's new job is seen as key to Kenya's hopes of restoring the confidence of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF suspended its support in late 2000, citing concerns about corruption. With this new appointment, analysts expect to see more foreign direct investment return to Kenya, which is currently in deep economic recession.

Mwiraria's appointment has been welcomed in Kenya's finance milieu.

Kibaki said he had begun useful discussions with international donors, bringing an end to distinctly chilly relations under Moi in recent years, because of his government's perceived reluctance to tackle corruption. "We have already started communication with those who have assisted Kenya in the past; I can assure you that the bulk of them (donors) that we have talked to have been very positive in their wish that our relationship be expanded and (in) their commitment to assist this nation, particularly as we shall fulfil our promise to fight corruption" said Kibaki, after announcing his new cabinet.

The foreign ministry has gone to Kalonzo Musyoka, who held the same senior appointment under Moi between 1993-1997. Musyoka, described by observers as one of Kanu's former high-flyers and a rising star, was among Moi's allies who defected wholesale to join Kibaki's opposition Narc alliance in October. Musyoka was serving as minister of tourism and information in the penultimate Moi government.

The naming of Musyoka as Kenya's top diplomat appears to be a popular choice.

The haemorrhaging of senior Kanu officials to Narc was a major blow to the party and virtually sealed Kanu's fate and its crushing defeat in the December poll.

Managing the ministry of public works, roads and housing in Kenya's new cabinet is the firebrand former opposition politician, Raila Odinga, widely credited as the main architect in the downfall of Kanu. Odinga wrongfooted and out-played Moi - who liked to foster his image as the 'Professor of Politics' - and led the decisive walkout of Kanu in October. This followed a messy political divorce between Odinga and Moi, which proved the ruin of the party that had led Kenya with an iron grip for 39 years.

At first glance Odinga's new appointment may appear less prestigious than others. But he is an engineer by training and, with the woeful state of roads and housing and the rundown infrastructure, ports and communications in the former British colony, Odinga's ministry is likely to be a key government operator in Kenya.

There is wide belief in Kenya that, should Narc succeed in changing the constitution in the future - though Kibaki's government does not have the 2/3 majority in parliament it needs to do so unilaterally - that Odinga is likely to become the country's new prime minister.

Meanwhile, the public works' portfolio also gives the incumbent huge influence over infrastructure and other public works' projects, contracts and government tenders. The ministry has traditionally been a notorious breeding ground for kickbacks and corruption. Analysts conclude that Odinga, a fiery, outspoken populist leader, is the right man for the job and will help spearhead Kibaki's campaign resolutely to fight against corruption.

Kibaki said parliament would convene next week Thursday and reiterated his campaign pledge to prioritise means to curb corruption. He announced that Narc, which has a working majority in parliament, would swiftly introduce key anti-graft legislation. Analysts say corruption was rampant under Moi, who stepped down Monday in line with constitutional requirements and a two-term limit, after 24 years in office. He handed over power to Kibaki at a swearing-in ceremony the same day..

"We will reintroduce in parliament the two laws that are needed to re-establish the anti corruption act which is needed to introduce the anti corruption authority," Kibaki said. He added that the authority would have the powers to "prosecute those that are proven to have stolen and also the laws that define economic crime and what should be done about them".

Kenya's next education science and technology minister is George Saitoti, a one-time mathematics professor who served as Moi's vice president until he was sacked in August. Saitoti later quit Kanu along with the other party defectors in October.

On education, Kibaki said with the new school year beginning on Monday, he would make good on a campaign pledge to provide free primary education in Kenya. "We will obviously have to start with the promise we made that school fees were and have been abolished, so that they do not have to be paid". Then, adding in Swahili - the lingua franca in Kenya - Kibaki said "Schools will be opening next week and we want to keep our promise".

Estimates note that at least half of Kenya's primary school age children do not attend school because of lack of money. Kibaki said one of the new parliament's first orders of business would be to amend the education operating budget to provide the extra funds needed for education, without specifying which fees had been abolished.

Primary state education is theoretically free in Kenya, but school pupils have to pay nominal fees for services as well as uniforms, books and supplies to enter the public school system.

Three women were named ministers in Kenya's new cabinet. Veteran opposition politician and long time Kibaki ally, Charity Ngilu, secured the health portfolio. Martha Wangari Karua is the new minister of water resources and Linah Jebii Kilimo is minister of state in the vice president's office.

Several other women were named assistant ministers and permanent secretaries, among them Wangari Maathai, a renowned international environmentalist and activist, who won a seat in parliament under the Narc umbrella last week. Maathai takes up the deputy environment ministry portfolio. Sally Kosgey retains her position as permanent secretary to the cabinet and head of the civil service.

Kenya watchers conclude that, considering the political factors Kibaki had to take into consideration while setting up his new cabinet, he has appointed a professional new team that could work. Narc was created hurriedly, bringing together an alliance of more than a dozen opposition political parties, just weeks before the December elections. Ensuring a regional, ethnic and party balance in the new administration was essential for Kibaki to keep the opposition coalition united.

"We are in business and please join in doing what you can to help," Kibaki told journalists in the grounds of State House after naming his new government.

He said he would announce, within 10 days, major changes in Kenya's parastatal organisations, such as Telkom Kenya, the Kenya Ports' Authority and the National Social Security Fund. These poorly performing parastatals were widely considered as ready revenue for Moi and Kanu.

Kibaki described them as cash cows which the previous administration had milked to the limit and "a terrible phenomenon unable to pay even their own debts". He said his new government was considering whether to abolish, privatise or reform Kenya's parastatals.

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