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Cablegate: Severe Coalition Government Tensions Surface

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FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NAIROBI 000171

SIPDIS
DEPT FOR AF/E AND A/S CARSON

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/16
TAGS: PGOV PREL KE
SUBJECT: Severe Coalition Government Tensions Surface

REF: RANNEBERGER-CARSON TELCON FEBRUARY 15

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
elections.

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.)

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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
scandals.

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
nation.

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
Kenyans.

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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.
RANNEBERGER

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