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Kenyan President, Coalition at Odds

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Kenya, a political crisis facing President Mwai Kibaki is deepening. More than two weeks ago, President Kibaki dissolved his Cabinet after his administration lost a nationwide referendum over a proposed constitution. This week the president announced a new Cabinet, but 19 of the new appointees have refused to take up their new jobs. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Nairobi.

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

After voters soundly rejected Kibaki's proposed constitution, the new Cabinet was supposed to be a fresh start for the embattled Kenyan president. Announcing the appointments on Wednesday night, Kibaki went back to the themes that got him elected in 2002. He pledge to fight corruption, create jobs and spur economic growth, and he said what Kenya needs now is a government that is focused on these objectives.

President EMILIO MWAI KIBAKI (Kenya): It is, therefore, imperative that the Cabinet works as a team and pulls together in the same direction.

BEAUBIEN: But within hours of announcing his new team, it was already falling apart. Kibaki was elected president in December of 2002 as the leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, or NARC. NARC brought together several opposition parties that had worked for years to try to end the corrupt rule of President Daniel Arap Moi and his KANU Party. KANU had been in power since Kenya won independence from Britain in 1963. When Kibaki reshuffled his Cabinet, he kicked out all the ministers who'd opposed his constitutional referendum. Charity Ngilu, the only woman appointed to the 29-member Cabinet, turned down the job of health minister, saying President Kibaki was using the restructuring to punish his political opponents.

Ms. CHARITY NGILU (Candidate for Ministry of Health): Kenyans voted for referendum or against referendum, and that is what they told us, and therefore, there's no need--there's no good reason for anyone to be punished for that.

BEAUBIEN: Ludeki Chweya, senior lecturer of political science at the University of Nairobi, says Kenya and the economic powerhouse of East Africa, is facing its most difficult political moment since Kibaki took office, and Chweya says most of Kibaki's problems were caused by the president himself.

Mr. LUDEKI CHWEYA (University of Nairobi): Mr. Kibaki has to understand that this is a coalition government, and he can't, therefore, afford to exclude some members of that coalition. And by excluding them, he's behaving as if he's running a government based on a party that had a clear, solid electoral victory, which is not the case.

BEAUBIEN: In addition to alienating members of his ruling political coalition, Chweya says President Kibaki has failed to deliver on the key promises he made three years ago. First, Kibaki promised a new constitution within 100 days of becoming president. That still hasn't happened. Then he promised to create 500,000 new jobs each year. While the economy has improved somewhat, unemployment remains extremely high. And Kibaki vowed to fight corruption. Earlier this year, Kibaki's highly respected corruption czar quit and went into exile in Britain. Chweya says ordinary Kenyans feel Kibaki hasn't taken corruption seriously.

Mr. CHWEYA: There are a number of people who--in his government, in his Cabinet who have been associated with corruption scandals, and the president has not taken action against them.

BEAUBIEN: Several leading opposition politicians say the only way for Kenya to get out of its current political morass is for Kibaki to call snap elections in early 2006 rather than waiting for the next general election in 2007. Kibaki, however, says he has no intention of doing that. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Nairobi.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.

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