Kenya’s Grand Coalition

When the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga reached a power-sharing agreement after dramatic weeks of violence, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. A coalition government was finally formed following protracted horse-trading to divvy up the key ministerial portfolios.

The outcome is indeed a Grand Coalition, but not necessarily in the best sense of a national unity government. While certainly this peace-securing agreement was an important step in Kenya’s recovery from the post-election turmoil, the grandest feature of the newly formed government is its very size. Kenya’s old cabinet had 17 members. The new one has… 40 – plus 50 assistant ministers. The new ministries were established or carved out of the existing ones in order to secure the balance of power between Kibaki and Odinga loyalists. But regardless of the rationale, these numbers are simply staggering!

First, how can this bloated government hope to get things done? The logistics of coordinating between so many ministers seem nearly unworkable. Second, the cost of supporting this behemoth bureaucracy is crushing. As the Economist notes, nearly half of Parliament’s members now have some ministerial position, which comes with extra salary, security expenses, cars, etc. What’s the total tab? An estimated $1 billion a year, or about one-eight of the expected government revenue!

And finally, this anything-but-lean government is likely to exacerbate Kenya’s corruption problems. If nothing else, mismanagement and resource misallocation seem unavoidable given the overlapping competencies of so many ministers and little in a way of checks and balances.

Mr. Odinga defended his new government saying, “Don’t look at the size of this cabinet, look at its products.” Now his great challenge is to prove to the Kenyan people, 60 percent of whom live on less than a dollar a day, that the Grand Coalition is capable of delivering equally sizable reforms.