The Star (Nairobi)

28 February 2013

Kenyans Mark Day of National Unity As Elections Beckon

The country marked national unity day, a day when President Mwai Kibaki and Premier Raila Odinga struck a peace deal that formed a coalition ... ( Resource: Kenyans Observe Five Years of Peace Accord

TODAY, February 28, 2013, marks the fifth and final year of the grand coalition government, a regime that was hurriedly cobbled together to stem widespread violence that rocked the country following the 2007 disputed general election.

The coalition government was formed in the aftermath of a serious post-electoral crisis including widespread violence.

Over a thousand people were killed after the elections in Kenya. The grand coalition simply happened to be the model everyone thought would be the most neutral solution possible.

This day marks exactly five years since former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stood on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi and declared "we have a deal" after 41 days of negotiations.

February 28 was designated as the day of National Unity and Thanksgiving for the Kenyan people to thank God for His mercy, love and for holding the country together.

President Kibaki has confirmed on several occasions confirmed that the signing of the National Accord was preceded by mutual agreement as national leaders that they both shared the dreams of the nation's founding fathers of building a prosperous nation devoid of ignorance, disease and poverty.

Kibaki retained the presidency and Raila was appointed the prime minister, becoming the only second Kenyan to hold the slot in the history of the country.

Kofi was the mediator in the signing of the National Accord under the aegis of African Union Panel of Eminent Personalities. The Accord was the key to the unity Kenya has witnessed in the last five years.

The emergence of the "grand coalition" government has faced enormous challenges, but because of the major challenges to national unity in the country the coalition, in a way, has been a government of national emergency that many Kenyans wanted to succeed.

It laid the foundation for peace and national reconciliation, and served as the new beginning that has led to the national re-awakening through the realisation of the new constitution.

The Accord was a consequence of the bungled 2007 general election. President Kibaki and Raila Odinga signed the Accord following the botched 2007 election and post election violence that followed.

The PNU position was that Kibaki won fairly and that Odinga and ODM should accept defeat and become the opposition. But both sides compromised on power sharing.

Violence started the moment the chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya Samuel Kivuitu, who died on Monday, declared that President Kibaki had won the closely contested elections.

It is expected that politicians will get time off their campaigns, and reflect on this day.

The National Accord was intended to facilitate an effective government to develop the country and conduct essential statutory and administrative reform of key institutions.

While reconciling the nation, tackling poverty and unemployment, addressing historical grievances, ending impunity and punishing crimes committed during the post election violence that caused the deaths of 1,300 people and displacement of over 500,000 people from their homes.

In short, the Accord was meant to heal and reform Kenya to prevent the eruption of violence from happening again.

The negotiators hoped that a power-sharing agreement like the one in Germany could help Kenya out of a spiral of violence it had found itself in.

Most people in Kenya say that the coalition - which pairs the country's three largest political parties in a "grand coalition" - is hardly a model of efficiency.

Grand coalitions are an exceptional system that are only applied from time to time in democracies.

The idea of the coalition was borrowed from Germany where all the biggest parties are in the coalition. It then moved to Kenya and then Zimbabwe.

While the outcome is the grand coalition, it is not necessarily in the best sense of a national unity government. While certainly this peace-securing agreement was an important step in Kenya's recovery from the post-election turmoil, the grandest feature of the newly formed government is its very size. Kenya's old cabinet had 17 members. The new one has 40 - plus 50 assistant ministers. The new ministries were established or carved out of the existing ones in order to secure the balance of power between Kibaki and Odinga loyalists. But regardless of the rationale, these numbers are simply staggering!

The logistics of co-ordinating between so many ministers was a challenge and seem nearly unworkable. The cost of supporting this behemoth bureaucracy is crushing. As the Economist noted, nearly half of Parliament's members now had some ministerial position, which comes with extra salary, security expenses, cars, etc.

And finally, this anything-but-lean government exacerbated Kenya's corruption problems. The grand corruption it was called. If nothing else, mismanagement and resource misallocation seemed unavoidable given the overlapping competencies of so many ministers and little in a way of checks and balances.

In Germany, grand coalitions of the two major parties - the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) - generally have a bad reputation.

The CDU/CSU-SPD government under Angela Merkel (2005-2009) was neither the parties' nor the citizens' preferred choice. Its performance was seen quite critical from the outset, and it was finished without further ado after the 2009 federal election. In Germany, just like Kenya and Zimbabwe though, there is frustration over the grand coalition because it has been plagued by paralysing compromises and inaction on important issues.

Kofi Annan proposed building a government that would last for two years in order to set a time limit for the coalition from the very start.

So as the country gears up for the general election, has the grand coalition 2008-2013 been a single episode or rather a turning point for Kenyan politics?

While addressing a meeting of the World Economic Forum in South Africa in 2009, Raila said the grand coalition was not the best form of government, but it a short gap measure put together for the purposes of national peace.

Little political progress has been recorded; in striking contrast to all expectations for more moderation and consensual preparation of a constitutional reform.

Based on experience , the wrangles that have dogged the coalition, the fear of the debilitating effects of a constitutional referendum and the hard-line positions on the contentious issues pose a big threat to the achievement of a new constitution before the 2012 elections.

Concerning land reform, the report noted that the failure to settle all the Internally Displaced Persons remains an important indicator of the challenges facing implementation. This is coupled by the failure of the President Kibaki to gazette the names of appointees to the National Land Commission in good time.

Poverty and inequality and efforts to combat regional development imbalances have not been successful. The most promising efforts are related to constitutional provisions on county governments and Vision 2030 development initiatives.

Regarding youth unemployment, the South report recalled the KNDR recommendation that efforts be made to generate an average of 740,000 new jobs each year from 2008. The first efforts to do so comprised short-term interventions and initiatives which have been beset by allegations of corruption.

The South report found that inter-community relations had improved, but there had been no coherent policy or approach on which to anchor gains, or even address ethnic inequalities. The fight against corruption had also not registered much success. The report noted that the lack of political commitment to deal with politically powerful individuals involved in corruption was a major challenge to the fight against impunity.

The South report concluded that the successful review of the constitution had laid a strong foundation for institutional renewal. Progress in some areas of Agenda Item 4 had not, however, been matched by others and that change within some institutions, critical for securing peace at the general election and a smooth transition, remain outstanding.

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