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Viewing cable 10NAIROBI171, Severe Coalition Government Tensions Surface

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10NAIROBI171 2010-02-16 12:12 2011-02-27 23:11 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Nairobi
Appears in these articles:
DE RUEHNR #0171/01 0471223
O R 161223Z FEB 10
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NAIROBI 000171 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/16 
SUBJECT: Severe Coalition Government Tensions Surface 
CLASSIFIED BY: Mitch Benedict, Political Counselor, State, Political; 
REASON: 1.4(B), (D) 
1. (C) Summary. Severe tensions within the coalition government 
have been building in recent days and erupted on February 14 into 
what both sides are characterizing as a "crisis."  The revelation 
of major corruption within the Ministry of Education, headed by a 
minister allied to President Kibaki, sparked retaliatory release of 
a long-delayed forensic audit of the maize scandal allegedly tied 
to the Prime Minister's office as well as Minister of Agriculture 
Ruto.  In an effort to protect himself, Odinga on February 13 
announced the resignations of two officials in his office.  Caught 
off guard, President Kibaki responded by suspending eight senior 
officials implicated in both scandals.  Seeking to regain the upper 
hand, Odinga on February 14 announced he was suspending the 
Minister of Education and Minister of Agriculture.  The President's 
office immediately disputed Odinga's authority to suspend the 
ministers, and announced that the two remain in place.  Odinga is 
also seeking to reopen agreements on contentious issues with 
respect to the constitutional review process reached by the 
Parliamentary Select Committee a week ago.   We are in close touch 
with both sides to urge them to resolve the current imbroglio. 
Odinga has formally requested Annan to intervene pursuant to the 
provisions of the National Accord which formed the coalition 
government.  Annan told the Ambassador on February 15 that he will 
call Kibaki and Odinga.  While the country remains calm, there is 
the potential for some violence given the willingness of 
politicians to resort to such tactics and continued high ethnic 
tensions.  We are closely monitoring the situation.  We issued a 
statement on February 15 urging the coalition partners to resolve 
their differences.  We are reaching out to all the key actors to 
urge calm and appropriate statements calling on the two leaders to 
work out their differences.  Depending on how matters develop in 
the coming days, additional high-level USG intervention may be 
needed.  The coalition crisis, corruption, and constitutional 
review will be the focus of Parliament, when it reconvenes February 
23. End summary. 
Coalition Tensions and "Crisis" 
2. (C) What appeared to be progress on both the constitutional 
review process and corruption issues has been transformed into 
public surfacing of severe tensions within the coalition 
government.  Both sides are, unhelpfully, characterizing this as a 
"crisis."  Though we have publicly avoided doing so, there is a 
growing perception among Kenyans that the tensions do, or will 
soon, amount to a serious crisis. 
3. (C) The tensions are related to the corruption issue and the 
constitutional review process.  There has been growing pressure on 
the coalition government to take action on the education and maize 
scandals.  The Ambassador's January 26 speech focused on the need 
to accelerate implementation of the reform agenda.  The speech 
resulted in revived public discussion on corruption issues 
(particularly the maize and education scandals).  Based on credible 
reports from multiple sources, it seems clear that the maize 
scandal touches the families of both President Kibaki and Prime 
Minister Odinga, and key members of their teams (though Odinga's 
side is likely more culpable on the maize scandal; Minister of 
Agriculture Ruto has been openly hostile toward Odinga and is 
working closely with the Kibaki side, so Kibaki has an interest in 
protecting Ruto).  The corruption within the Ministry of Education 
likely reaches very senior levels on Kibaki's side. 
4. (C) Faced with growing pressure, Kibaki and Odinga saw joint 
interest in taking limited action.  Thus on February 13, the 
government announced that a number of senior officials were being 
suspended for three months while investigations take place into the 
maize and education scandals.  The officials suspended include: 
Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Romano Kiome, Ministry 
of Special Programs Permanent Secretary Ali Mohamed, Ministry of 
Education Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi, Office of the Prime 
Minister Permanent Secretary Mohammed Isahakia, Office of the Prime 
Minister Administrative Secretary Caroli Omondi, National Cereals 
and Produce Board Managing Director Gideon Misoi, National Cereals 
and Produce Board Sales and Marketing Manager Boit, and National 
Cereals and Produce Board General Manager Langat. 
5. (C) Although a product of consultations between Kibaki and 
Odinga, the announcement of suspensions was issued by the 
presidency.  On February 14 Odinga announced separately that he was 
suspending Minister of Education Ongeri and Minister of Agriculture 
Ruto for 3 months while investigations take place.  Odinga 
presumably did this because he wanted to be seen directly as acting 
against corruption, but there were undoubtedly other considerations 
as well (see below).  Later on February 14, President Kibaki issued 
NAIROBI 00000171  002 OF 004 
a statement countermanding Odinga's suspension of the two 
ministers, and stated that there had been no consultation between 
him and Odinga regarding such a step (Odinga claimed there were 
consultations).  Additionally, Kibaki stated that the Prime 
Minister does not have the legal or constitutional authority to 
suspend a minister. 
6. (C) On February 15 Odinga issued a statement maintaining that he 
has the authority to remove the ministers pursuant to the 
constitution and to the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. 
(The legal authorities are not completely clear.  While Kibaki has 
the constitutional power to appoint ministers, the National Accord 
states that ministerial appoints and removals shall be made 
pursuant to consultation between the coalition partners.) 
7. (C) Odinga's statement concluded by officially declaring a 
"dispute" between the coalition partners and seeking the "immediate 
intervention of the African Union, in particular the Office of the 
Eminent African Personalities chaired by Kofi Annan, to convene a 
meeting to discuss the current crisis with a view to resolving it." 
Context of Odinga's and Kibaki's Actions 
8. (C) It is important to understand the context in which Odinga's 
actions are taking place.  On February 12 we learned that Odinga 
had chaired a meeting with close advisers with a view toward 
reopening key provisions of the agreements on contentious issues in 
the constitutional review process reached by the Parliamentary 
Select Committee in Naivasha the previous week.  When the 
Ambassador called Odinga, he admitted this was the case.  He stated 
that the Parliamentary Select Committee had exceeded its mandate. 
How could Odinga walk away from the agreement when Odinga's top 
people are in the PSC and participated in the meetings under 
instructions from Odinga, the Ambassador asked?  Odinga had no 
response to this, but nevertheless insisted that key provisions 
must be reopened.  Odinga's decision to reopen key issues came just 
days before the PSC and Committee of Experts were scheduled to 
review the results of the Navaisha meetings and move the 
constitutional review process forward.  Odinga's decision to reopen 
key issues was confirmed today when his ODM party submitted a 
ten-page memorandum to the COE reopening key issues. 
9. (C) We have credible reports that members of Odinga's family, 
presumably with his knowledge and/or involvement, were involved in 
the maize scandal.  Thus, at the time he made his dramatic February 
14 statements, Odinga was facing serious pressures on both the 
corruption and constitutional review issues.  It seems highly 
possible that Odinga made the announcement regarding Ongeri and 
Ruto knowing that it would cause a huge political and 
constitutional flap, and thus divert focus on both the corruption 
and constitutional review issues.  Alternatively, Odinga may have 
miscalculated that he could "roll" Kibaki to go along with his 
actions because Kibaki would not want to be seen as supporting 
ministers tainted by corruption. 
10. (C) Kibaki, like Odinga, also wants to be seen as spearheading 
anti-corruption actions, so one-upsmanship is at play.  Members of 
Kibaki's family may be involved in these or other corruption 
scandals.  Kibaki may have calculated that sacrificing senior-level 
personnel short of ministers would be enough to placate the public. 
At the same time, Kibaki is likely be urged by Uhuru Kenyatta not 
to take action against Ruto, since the two are working closely 
together, possibly with a view toward the 2012 presidential 
U.S. Actions 
11. (C) The Ambassador spoke with Presidential Permanent Secretary 
Muthaura and Prime Minister Odinga on February 14. Muthaura 
insisted that, while the President and Prime Minister had discussed 
the possibility of ministerial shake-ups on several occasions, 
there was no agreement to suspend Ongeri and Ruto.  Odinga's action 
to do so has precipitated a constitutional crisis, Muthaura said. 
Odinga told the Ambassador that he consulted Kibaki on the 
suspensions, but he quickly added that whether or not Kibaki had 
agreed makes no difference, since Odinga has the authority to 
suspend the ministers.  "I have the constitutional authority to 
coordinate and supervise the ministers," Odinga stated.  "That 
authority amounts to nothing if I do not have the authority to 
suspend ministers."  The Ambassador urged the Prime Minister to 
call the President with a view toward resolving the impasse and 
avoiding a crisis.  Odinga was non-committal, and then late on 
February 14 he departed for a week-long visit to Thailand and 
Japan.  (As one wag put it: having set the house on fire, Odinga 
left the country.) 
NAIROBI 00000171  003 OF 004 
12. (C) The Ambassador spoke with Kofi Annan on February 15.  Annan 
said he is closely following the situation and will likely call 
Kibaki and Odinga on February 16, after they have both had a chance 
to calm down.  He will urge them to resolve the controversy 
regarding the suspension of the ministers, and to keep the 
constitutional review process on track.  (Annan remains very 
involved on Kenya and plans to hold a major public forum on the 
National Accord in Nairobi in late March.) 
13. (C) In the volatile atmosphere of Kenyan politics and continued 
serious ethnic tensions, resort to violence by some or all of the 
actors is a real possibility.  Ruto certainly sees that as an 
option.  Odinga knows that he does not have the votes in Parliament 
to support his actions (given that Ruto can control at least 12 or 
so MPs), and therefore may be tempted to see fomenting public 
unrest as his only option. 
14. (C) On February 15, we issued a statement urging the coalition 
partners to work together in the interest of the nation (see full 
text below).  We are also urging calm and reaching out to key 
actors, including civil society, the private sector, religious 
groups, the media, youth groups, and politicians.  A number of 
these actors have indicated they will key off of our statement. 
15. (C) We are monitoring the situation closely.  Depending on how 
matters evolve - and the results of Annan's interventions - 
additional high-level USG engagement with Kibaki and Odinga may be 
necessary in the coming days. 
16. (U) Begin text of statement. 
U.S. Government Statement on Coalition Government Actions 
Nairobi, 15 February 2010 - The U.S. Government welcomes the 
decision to order certain officials to step aside while 
investigations into the maize and education scandals proceed. This 
constitutes an essential first step needed to address corruption 
scandals. The Kenyan people and the international community are 
waiting to see whether the government's actions taken so far signal 
a new decision to take bold actions to fight corruption at all 
levels with respect to these cases and the other major corruption 
Thorough, transparent, and independent investigations should be 
carried out expeditiously, and vigorous prosecutions should take 
place as warranted by the evidence. Government officials at all 
levels must be held accountable for their actions. We urge the 
leaders of the coalition government to work together to ensure that 
all appropriate steps are taken so that justice is served and the 
rule of law is respected. 
The signing of the National Accord and formation of the coalition 
government was a watershed which ended the worst crisis in Kenya's 
history. The coalition leaders, therefore, have a responsibility to 
act in a unified way to move forward the historic reform agenda. 
Only a unified coalition government approach, in the spirit of the 
National Accord, will be credible. Only a unified approach by the 
coalition leadership will signal true determination to work 
together to fight corruption. 
The coalition partners must concurrently work together in a 
cooperative spirit to successfully complete the constitutional 
review process. The work of the Committee of Experts and the 
Parliamentary Select Committee constitutes major progress. We urge 
the coalition partners to maintain momentum in the constitutional 
review process, and hold a timely referendum which will unify the 
Working together to tackle corruption, to implement other key 
reforms such as police reform, and to see the constitutional review 
process to a successful conclusion are, taken together, vital to 
ensure the future democratic stability and prosperity for all 
NAIROBI 00000171  004 OF 004 
We stand behind the message of the Kenyan people: "the resilience 
of the Kenyan people must not be taken for granted any longer. 
Tackle grand corruption and give Wananchi a new constitution." 
End text.