NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki named cabinet ally George Saitoti as the east African country’s acting foreign minister on Thursday, in a move seen as a boost to Saitoti’s bid for the presidency in 2012.
Saitoti is also Kenya’s internal security minister and is likely to be central to interaction with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is investigating the deadly clashes that followed the 2007 disputed presidential election.
“The position opens up for Saitoti an avenue to make key links with foreign governments, donors and others out there who may help his presidential bid in one way or the other,” Kwamchetsi Makokha, a political analyst said.
“On another level, it is a significant step in consolidating the two ministries so that one person is in charge of dealing with the ICC. It creates a one-stop shop for the ICC in Kenya.”
Saitoti has so far fared poorly in opinion polls on his bid for the presidency compared to other candidates.
He replaces Moses Wetangula who, together with his permanent secretary, stepped aside after a parliamentary committee recommended they quit and be investigated for authorising payment for new embassies at inflated prices.
Saitoti, 65, a professor of mathematics and former vice president under Kenya’s second president, Daniel arap Moi, is a significant ally of Kibaki’s camp in the coalition government.
His Rift Valley constituency is dominated by the Maasai, whose distinctive customs, dress and residence near game parks popular with foreign tourists has made them one of the most well known of African ethnic groups.
Saitoti played a key role in a decision by the government to grant ICC investigators crucial minutes of security meetings held on the post-election violence. He said some of the minutes could not be divulged on national security interests.
If ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issues arrest warrants against high profile Kenyans, it would be Saitoti’s docket to carry out the arrests.
Kenya was heavily criticised by foreign governments for failing to arrest Sudan’s leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, when he visited Nairobi in late August for a ceremony to enact Kenya’s new constitution.
Kibaki came to power on an anti-graft platform, but his record on fighting corruption has failed to impress critics and Kenyan media have been replete with numerous scandals.
No minister has been convicted of graft in Kenya, where sleaze has spread from politicians, to civil servants, private business and ordinary Kenyans who part with smalls sums of money for favours in government offices.
In mid-2006 the Kenyan High Court ruled Saitoti should not be charged over the Goldenberg scam, the country’s biggest financial scandal, after rejecting the conclusions of an inquiry that recommended Saitoti’s prosecution.
The Goldenberg scandal involved the loss of at least $1 billion in central bank money via compensation payments for bogus gold and diamond exports before the 1992 election.
Saitoti was serving as finance minister at the time.
Months before the court’s ruling, Saitoti had stepped aside as minister for education after being named in the scandal, but returned to his position after he was cleared by the court, and was later named internal minister by Kibaki.