|Fresh from the “protocol wars” in the Rift Valley, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka arrived in Nairobi to find his docket under fire as prison warders went on strike.
|From left, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, President Mwai Kibaki and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. Photo/FILE
To add to Mr Musyoka’s misery, two heavyweight appointees he named to a committee to investigate the prisons fiasco – former Vice-President Moody Awori and former Prisons Commissioner Abraham Kamakil – publicly turned down the appointments.
One of Mr Kalonzo’s aides, Mr Kaplich Barsito, hinted that the government, with the VP’s consent, encouraged the duo to turn down the appointments after the prison warders rejected them outright. However, the tone Mr Awori adopted while claiming he was “busy writing my memoirs” did not sound calculated enough to save Mr Musyoka much face.
There have been the usual suspicions about whether the strike was instigated by the VP’s political enemies, but so far there has been no hard evidence of such. However, Mr Musyoka’s vulnerability certainly was in the political interest of his main nemesis, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
It so happened that Mr Odinga tactfully kept out of the fracas; it coincided with a trip he had scheduled for Germany to undergo minor eye surgery.
It is entirely possible that the prime minister would have sought to intervene at some stage if the prison crisis got prolonged. The VP’s circle did not hide their fear that such an intervention would have made him appear in even worse light than he did when Mr Awori declined to be a part of the proposed prisons reform committee.
And the protocol issue continues to fester. The National Reconciliation and Accord Act has introduced a novel experiment where a new political office, that of the prime minister, has far more political clout than that of the VP, a situation the VP’s aides concede while pointing out that such seniority should not be confused with “constitutional precedence”, even where the latter is largely ceremonial.
The latest government circular yet again classified the VP as second to the President in order of precedence, and it is noteworthy that it was leaked in the wake of the “protocol wars” that erupted in the Rift Valley.
The circular, signed by Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura and dated April 25, is meant for ministers and top-notch government officers to acquaint them with the different responsibilities and roles of the President and the prime minister ahead of an “induction” ceremony for all of them that had been scheduled for last week at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies.
The induction ceremony, where the prime minister was to give a keynote address, was postponed at the last minute to enable Mr Odinga travel to Europe, from whence he detoured to South Africa.
According to an official in the Cabinet office, the delay in announcing the postponement was occasioned by the letter from the prime minister’s office about the trip to Germany arriving late.
The protocol problem had taken a potentially dramatic direction when some initial reports intimated the prime minister had been invited to be chief guest at the Labour Day rally, but then in a curious reversal it later transpired the invitation had gone to President Kibaki, who since coming into office has customarily graced the occasion.
There is clearly unfinished business on all sides as the prime minister tentatively seeks to chart out the extent of his new fiefdom.
That is probably the best way to interpret a letter from the PM’s office to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission asking the Commission to explain the latest deal where corruption charges against Mr Kamlesh Pattni were dropped in exchange for him giving up all ownership claims to the Grand Regency Hotel.Chief of staff
The letter had been dispatched through a certain Mr Caroli Omondi, who gave his designation as “chief of staff in the prime minister’s office”.
Mr Muthaura reportedly chose to ignore the letter on the grounds that such a position of “chief of staff” did not exist in the known civil service structure and because the chain of command acknowledged by the Head of the Public Service is through line permanent secretaries, of which there is one at the PM’s office.
The letter had been copied to Mr Muthaura and Finance Minister Amos Kimunya, among others. This is probably going to be the first litmus test on how much room some entrenched departments of government are willing to allow the prime minister, even with the anti-corruption mandate Mr Odinga has set upon himself and which he is to some extent accorded under Mr Muthaura’s latest circular by virtue of such departments as the Efficiency Monitoring Unit being put under his overall supervisory wing.
It did not escape notice that the target of the enquiry from the prime minister’s office – the Commission – is a body presumed to enjoy constitutional autonomy.
Nobody has any illusions that the protocol drama in Eldoret was anything else but the opening salvo of the epic succession war that is already shaping up in the countdown to 2012.
Contesting the presidency
Mr Musyoka’s position is complicated by simmering mini-shows in Central Province about the probability of either Security Minister George Saitoti or Justice Minister Martha Karua or Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta contesting the presidency in 2012.
The danger in this, as Mr Musyoka’s people see it, is not that any of the trio can make a runaway impact nationally – the national political mood playing out suggests it will be improbable for another figure from the province to succeed Mr Kibaki at State House.
Rather, for the VP the danger is that the possibility of either Prof Saitoti or Ms Karua or Mr Kenyatta running for President would frustrate him out of the bloc vote from Central Kenya, which he now critically depends on for his own 2012 candidacy.
The person who the VP’s advisers express the deepest anxiety about is Prof Saitoti. Technically, he is not a Central Province politician, but for years people have been linking him culturally to the region.
The worry from the VP’s corner is because the Security Minister has, as is his character, stoutly refused to confirm or rule out his intentions for 2012.
And as all his rivals know, Prof Saitoti has at his command the resources and networks to seriously complicate the VP’s delicate succession strategy.
Mr Kalonzo’s camp seems more comfortable with Mr Kenyatta, who they believe will opt to bide his time and support their man in the meantime, a position that, interestingly, Mr Kenyatta’s aides have not contradicted so far. Indeed, the two camps have quietly been building a rapport which, barring something unexpected, could mean a Musyoka-Kenyatta ticket for 2012.
Ms Karua does not have the resources or networks of either Prof Saitoti or Mr Kenyatta; but for the VP or anybody else interested in the Mt Kenya vote, underestimating her might prove costly in view of the “hero” status she has acquired for herself in the region for the steadfast pro-Kibaki role she has played throughout the turbulent post-election period.
However, her viability nationally has been hampered by precisely this perception that she is a PNU hardliner.
Earlier expressions by Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi that he would also run for President seem to have fizzled out.
The real question is whether any of the PNU claimants, starting with the VP, has what it takes to stop the powerful Mr Odinga and his ODM. Mr Musyoka’s advisers are hoping the threat alone of ODM’s might will sooner or later simply force the VP’s PNU rivals for the presidency to band together behind him.
President Kibaki’s own severely circumscribed authority is unlikely to be of much help in the meantime.
The President himself did not escape the booing subjected to his VP in Eldoret. His inability to tame the Labour Day crowd at Uhuru Park, which otherwise was very responsive to the prime minister’s name whenever it was mentioned, was a reminder that Mr Odinga remains the real crowd puller of Kenyan politics.
It is understood Mr Odinga was reluctant to take up COTU’s invitation to the Labour Day rally, but not entirely because he wanted to avoid upstaging the President so early in the grand coalition’s life.
Unlike Kibaki, the prime minister reportedly anticipated the assembled workers would expect a salary hike and they, in their understanding, believe Mr Odinga is now in charge of government and hence in the position to meet all their demands.
As it turned out, it was President Kibaki who endured the embarrassment from the crowd when he showed up but declined to order the desired wage increments.
Parliamentary by-elections scheduled for June 11 in Embakasi, Kamukunji, Kilgoris, Emuhaya, Ainamoi and Wajir North will be an eye-opener as to whether PNU is any shape to put up a fight against a still potent ODM.
Already, the latter has taken care to clarify that it will treat the PNU as a rival and competitor, whether they are in a grand coalition together or not.