Kenya protests reignite as Kibaki forms new government

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 8, 2008 

KISUMU, Kenya — In a severe setback for U.S.-backed peace efforts in Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki filled key positions Tuesday in a new government that excluded members of the powerful opposition party, which claims that he stole last month's election.

Ignoring the explicit request of the Bush administration, Kibaki handed 17 influential Cabinet positions to allies, who finished behind his party in an election last month that foreign observers say was deeply flawed.

The surprise announcement immediately reignited protests in the western city of Kisumu, a stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

"No Raila, no peace!" chanted dozens of young Odinga supporters, who took to Kisumu's streets after nightfall, erecting roadblocks and hurling stones at passing cars, witnesses said. In one run-down neighborhood, youths burned piles of tires and said they were looking for members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe so they could set their houses ablaze.

Hundreds already have died in the election aftermath as opposition supporters targeted Kikuyus and other ethnic groups seen to be loyal to Kibaki. U.S. and European diplomats have been applying pressure on the two rivals to reach a political settlement that would end the fighting, which has shattered Kenya's reputation as a model African democracy.

There was no immediate U.S. reaction Tuesday. But diplomats said that Kibaki's announcement — including his choice for vice president, Kalonzo Musyoka, who finished a distant third in the presidential race — was a slap in the face to Odinga and to the internationally backed mediation efforts.

"Of course we are frustrated," a senior Western diplomat in Kenya said. "It's really a disappointment for the country. It's very, very irresponsible."

The announcement came as John Kufuor, the president of Ghana and the chairman of the African Union, arrived in Kenya for two days of meetings with both sides that could serve as a prelude to negotiations. Hours earlier, Odinga rejected an invitation from Kibaki for a meeting Friday because an international mediator wasn't going to be present.

By naming the heads of key ministries such as justice, roads and internal security, experts and diplomats said, Kibaki was trying to pre-empt Odinga's demands ahead of negotiations. Another 17 Cabinet seats are still up for grabs, but they're for lesser positions such as sports, science and technology, and the environment.

Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and other envoys had been pressing Kibaki not to conduct "business as usual" before negotiating with Odinga. But the Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol, said the Bush administration hadn't put enough pressure on Kibaki, who's a key ally in the war on terrorism in East Africa and whose government received more than $300 million in U.S. assistance in 2006.

Frazer has said Kenyans were "cheated" by the election, which ended with Kibaki hastily being sworn in for a second five-year term despite credible allegations of irregularities in the vote-counting. But while Frazer indicated that U.S. officials were deeply disappointed in the outcome, she didn't threaten Kibaki's government with sanctions or other penalties if the crisis isn't resolved.

"The Americans have been very, very gentle," the Western diplomat said. "If that could change, things would move."

Odinga signaled earlier this week that he was willing to meet with Kibaki, and called off opposition protests so that negotiations could start. Diplomats had expected Kibaki to make some concessions to Odinga because Odinga's party holds 95 seats in parliament, compared with 43 for Kibaki.

(McClatchy special correspondent Paul Orengoh contributed to this report.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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