24 November 2005

Kenya: Kibaki Sacks Entire Cabinet

Nairobi — President Kibaki last evening sent all his ministers and assistant ministers home with one stroke of the pen.

The President made history by dissolving the Cabinet mid-term, sending all members packing, and taking away from the Vice President his portfolio as Minister for Home Affairs. Awori retains the Vice Presidency.

The only other unaffected office is that of the Attorney General's, which enjoys an ex-officio status. Section 16 of the Constitution delineates the VP's office from that of Cabinet ministers, and makes it a unique entity by itself.

The President promised the nation a new Cabinet within two weeks. His action, he said, was made necessary by the need to have a more cohesive Cabinet with better capacity to serve Kenya.

Sources in Government, however, revealed he could name a new Cabinet in two days to stifle disquiet, lobbying and possible attempts at horse-trading.

While sitting Presidents have often reshuffled and sometimes sacked ministers, this is the first time an entire Cabinet is being kicked out of office, leaving the President to run the government single-handedly.

The surprise action leaves the former ministers guessing for they could be completely locked out of the new-look Cabinet. The President stumped his foot on the ground after seven months in which his divided Cabinet never met, with members talking at each other at political rallies and the press.

The President said his action was linked to the November 21 referendum where the government suffered a credibility blow after Kenyans rejected a proposed constitution that he and some of his ministers campaigned for.

The President on Tuesday welcomed the results and said there was no winner. He however described as 'the people's choice".

The President in his second televised address to the nation in 27 hours opened with the line: "Following the results of the Referendum, it has become necessary for me, as the

President of the Republic, to re-organise my Government to make it more cohesive and better able to serve the people of Kenya."

He went on: "Accordingly, in accordance with the powers conferred upon me under the Constitution of Kenya, I have directed that the offices of all Ministers and all Assistant. Ministers become vacant. Consequently, the occupants of the said offices cease to hold their respective offices with immediate effect. A reconstituted Government will be in place within two weeks."

The President's statement, broadcast by Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in its 7 pm bulletin caught many of the ministers flat-footed, and wound a long day in which the head of state met some of them and senior civil servants.

It also found Foreign minister Chirau Mwakwere representing the President at Commonwealth heads of states summit in Malta.

Among those taken by surprise were seven ministers in the Orange team said to have been meeting in a secret location. "We had just agreed that if one of us is sacked, we all go," one of them said on guarantee of absolute confidentiality.

The meetings at State House Nairobi came a day after the draft constitution that he personally campaigned for suffered a resounding rejection.

At least three of the ministers used the meetings attended by Awori, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura - ostensibly called to review the Orange team's victory - to push for the sacking of their "renegade" colleagues whom they blamed for the loss.

Lands Minister Amos Kimunya, his Trade counterpart Mukhisa Kituyi and Njeru Ndwiga of Cooperatives are said to have urged the President to fire seven of their colleagues who played a prominent role in the defeat that has embarrassed the President and aborted what would have been a much-needed show of faith in his Government.

Sources said the President sought explanation from the ministers who also included Kiraitu Murungi (Justice), John Michuki (Security), George Saitoti (Education) Musikari Kombo (Local Government) and Kipruto Kirwa (Agriculture) an explanation on the crashing defeat.

"He wanted to know what exactly happened; what went wrong; why did the voters so overwhelmingly reject the document? It was obvious the poor showing by the Banana team shocked him," a source privy to the discussions revealed.

The Director of Presidential Press Service Isaiah Kabira confirmed that that the President had met his VP but said that the meeting, like those with the ministers, was "just normal." "The meeting is just normal. The President and the VP always consult," he added.

Kimunya who met the President in the afternoon was reluctant to discuss details of the meeting but was quick to add that he believed a Cabinet shake up was essential. "I believe we need to clean up the Cabinet. It is necessary to build a strong team that has the trust of one another," he told the Standard.

Muthaura was also said to be keen on the sacking of at least two Ministers in the Orange camp if only to serve notice to other "renegades" that they too could be fired, the source said.

The "renegades" include Roads Minister Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka (Environment), Najib Balala (Heritage), Prof Anyang Nyong'o (Planning), Linah Kilimo (Immigration), Ochillo Ayacko (Sports) and William ole Ntimama of Office of the President.

The President was said not to have directly responded to the sacking pleas and instead opted for general talk of the need to understand the main reasons behind the Yes team dismal performance.

Another source however described the President to have been generally reconciliatory even as he listened to his ministers bay for the blood of their colleagues considered to have engineered the 3,548,477 Orange win against the Banana's 2,532,918 votes.

The winners had on Tuesday extended an olive branch to the Yes team such hard-line talk could entrench the divide in the Cabinet.

Yesterday, the Orange team followed their win with the naming of a team that is to shepherd a new search for a constitution.

Making the announcement, Kanu Secretary General William Ruto however made it clear that the offer for reconciliation was subject to a genuine acceptance by their opponents.

The State House meetings began early in the morning and were stretched throughout the day. The VP, Kiraitu, Michuki and Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua who also attended the meetings met the President in the morning.

They were held amid talk that the President had put off an intended meeting to the Mediterranean island of Malta where he was expected to attend the Commonwealth Heads of States meetings.

Although the President's advance team left last week, a senior Government official insisted the he was all along not set to go and talk of postponement did not therefore arise. "He is not going because he was not going in the first place," the official said.

Kibaki's action to send the entire cabinet to Siberia is telling of the kind of frustration he has suffered since taking power in December 2002.

For once, his cabinet has never spoken with one voice because ministers have exercise dual loyalty; one to him as head of state, and other to their respective political parties and ethnic groups.

The governing party Narc is a combination of fourteen political parties that came together only a few months before the 2002 general elections to remove Kanu from power.

Key parties in Narc included Kibaki's Democratic Party of Kenya (DP), Liberal Democratic Party of Kenya (LDP) of Raila Odinga, Ford-Kenya of Musikari Kombo, National Party of Kenya (NPK) of Mrs Charity Ngilu.

Despite coming together under Narc, the individual parties have fiercely guarded their identity, and individual cabinet ministers have tended to show more loyalty to their parties than to the President.

Kibaki's trying moment came only a year into his presidency when cabinet ministers disagreed openly during the national constitutional conference at the Bomas of Kenya.

Key cabinet ministers led by VP Awori walked out on the Bomas delegates protesting against the draft constitution.

But other ministers allied to LDP including Raila, disagreed with their colleagues and remained with delegates to approve the remaining chapters of the now Bomas draft.

During the past two years, the Kibaki government has practically been grounded as cabinet ministers quarreled publicly over the proposed new constitution.

Despite strong opposition from key stakeholders, the government bulldozed the amendment of the Bomas draft during a consultative forum by Members of Parliament and other politicians during a retreat in Naivasha last year.

The draft was later changed during another retreat by MPs allied to the government in at a Kilifi resort last September but during a forum that was largely boycotted by Ministers and MPs allied to LDP.

During the past three months, the political landscape has drastically changed as LDP ministers teamed up with key Opposition elements to crusade against the proposed constitution.

Cabinet ministers allied to LPD have torn into their colleagues allied to Kibaki, branding them corrupt and demanding for their removal.

But while this has been going on, Kibaki has largely remained silent, merely attacking the rebel ministers using generalised terms.

The division in the cabinet had reached fever-pick when Kenyans voted during the first ever-national referendum on November 21 to reject the proposed constitution.

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