The leaders of Kenya’s fractious coalition sought to play down fears of a crisis in government yesterday and an adviser to the prime minister said there would be more bridge-building talks in the coming days.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki have been in a tense coalition since 2008 following post-election violence that killed some 1300 people after Odinga said he had been cheated of the presidency by incumbent Kibaki.
Since then, their unity government has struggled to make substantial progress on reforms or in tackling corruption, due to persistent squabbling between the two camps.
“The two principals agreed that there were no intractable issues that stood in the way of the coalition continuing to work closely together to forge common ground on which to build a stronger Kenya,” said a statement by Salim Lone, an adviser to the prime minister.
He said the two had already held an “extremely useful” discussion and would meet again once Odinga returns from a visit to Japan on Sunday.
In a separate statement, the president said there was no crisis in leadership.
“Over the last few days, there has been heated debate about the cohesion of the grand coalition government,” Kibaki said. “In that regard, I wish to assure Kenyans that there is no crisis.”
The Kenyan shilling slumped to an eight-month low on Tuesday on the back of concerns the row could escalate. The currency has since recovered slightly against the dollar thanks to the more conciliatory noises coming from the leaders.
“With the coalition partners seemingly toning down a little, we could see some calmness in the markets but dealers will keep a keen eye on the happenings with any negative sentiment affecting the shilling adversely,” Bank of Africa said in a market report.
The latest crack in the union emerged last Sunday when Odinga suspended two ministers for three months to allow independent investigations into corruption allegations in their ministries.
Hours later, Kibaki overturned the decision saying he had not been consulted and the prime minister did not have the constitutional powers to suspend the two ministers.
Kenyans have been clamouring for a new constitution to replace one written at independence over four decades ago, which they say gives the president too much power.
The country is also demanding changes to electoral and land laws and reforms in the police department.
Kofi Annan, the chief mediator in the post-election crisis, warned yesterday that reforms in east Africa’s biggest economy would be reversed unless the political row was resolved quickly.
“We urge the coalition partners to focus on the difficult tasks ahead, and to re-dedicate themselves to the full and speedy implementation of the reform agenda,” said Annan, chairman of the Africa Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities that mediated Kenya’s peace deal in 2008.
Washington urged the two sides to bury the hatchet and press on with reforms such as getting a new constitution through parliament.
Pic: Kenyan President- Mwai Kibaki