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RAILA, PM or ODM activist?

Is Mr Raila Amolo Odinga under siege?

Published on May 25, 2008, 12:00 am

By Oscar Obonyo

Prime Minister Raila Odinga stoked the embers of the Orange Dream to rule Kenya after President Kibaki to rekindle the party’s vibrant spirit in one of its low seasons.

Twice in a week, he spoke of the transitory nature of the Grand Coalition as a way of patching up internal schisms over Grand Opposition plan, which he opposed.

Raila also joined Orange Democratic Movement’s leaders in calling for amnesty to suspects being held over post-election violence, arguing they were demonstrators.

It was another week Raila strove to walk the thin line between Mr Prime Minister, with its attendant responsibilities and burden of image, and being the leader of a party whose supporters feel was short-changed in the power-sharing deal.

On May 17, Raila notably promised the country a new constitution by next April. It came again with another promissory statement to ODM: The new package in the Constitution will ensure a change in governance.

Some thorny issues

But the thorniest issue in the Grand Coalition, and which must be preying on Raila’s political mind, remains amnesty, which ODM supports.

The Cabinet did in the week slam the door on the idea; with the rider Government cannot abdicate its responsibility no matter the political season.

Then there is the grand opposition, which ODM and Party of National Unity wings of Cabinet resist in equal measure. But it appears to curry favour with backbenchers from both sides.

In the pursuit of amnesty as well as projection the PM’s office is up and running, along with the admission the lack of good faith could cripple the coalition, Raila appeared to send a coded message. That, either not much structural support is coming his way from President Kibaki’s direction, or it is but just in token.

The dilemma

Privately, it is believed Raila is grappling with a two-faced dilemma: He has to project himself as the ideal “supervisor and co-ordinator” of Cabinet affairs as envisaged by the National Accord, even when in reality there is still perception the power-sharing deal did not go the way it should.

It is here that examples of appointment to the Office of the President of former Cabinet ministers Raphael Tuju and Prof Kivutha Kibwana are given. Raila is reported to have been in the dark just as was the case with the shuffle that affected three Permanent Secretaries, last week.

The challenge comes along with the headache of convincing ODM members the party is in the Government on equal terms and they should treat it as their own. That is why such euphemisms as ‘come we stay’, ‘forced marriage’, and even serikali ya ukarabati (a patch up government), came from ODM bigwigs last week

Eyes on State House

Secondly, Raila has the arduous task of showing his capacity to lead, as opposed to the rebellious streak that he is associated with.

Unlike Kibaki who is serving his last term, he has made it clear the coalition arrangement was just a temporary truce. The real war is ahead and on the boxing ring will be such Cabinet members as Prof George Saitoti, Ms Martha Karua and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka.

It is a tight line Raila has to walk; projecting the face of an efficacious leader, as well as laying the ground for another stab at the presidency. In the process he has to juggle the interests of ODM while working to eat into PNU base. In the process he has to ensure he does not lose a slice of the ODM machine.

Raila is however optimistic and yesterday he reiterated his message of peace and optimism. “Though we did not get want we anticipated in the General Elections, it was an experience this country needed to unite. Let us forget and live in harmony…we want a ‘tribeless’ society,” said Raila.

“Today we have people from the lake marrying from the mountain…what we have experienced is a grand coalition of marriages. And just as the inter-tribal marriages are working, our Grand coalition will work. We just need to be optimistic,’’ he added.

He concluded: “Bygones are bygones. Let us focus on the present and the future.

Hidden hands

The disquiet in ODM is partly anchored on what MPs perceive to be the President’s indifference and hidden hand trying to undermine the PM’s office.

There is also the muted dejection from those who missed out in the sharing of ministerial and assistant ministerial seats. The near permanence of the appointments for the duration of the coalition gives them the signal their status may not change soon, and so should explore a greener pasture. That is where the grand opposition beckons, along with its modest tidings.

One month since being sworn-in as Kenya’s second premier, Raila is yet to fully get the compass and instruments to work. With President Kibaki and his key aides, including Head of Civil Service, Mr Francis Muthaura, practically playing the “co-ordination and supervisory” role of Government, the PM is still jostling for space to exercise “real power”.

An ODM backbencher best captures the emerging scenario: “I really sympathise with his situation. I see a man who is genuine and who went to bed with PNU to save this country from further bloodshed. Now they are shamelessly plotting to cut him and our party to size.”

That timing of the latest could not be worse. It comes at a time when the PM is facing internal dissent from some members of his party and a section of party supporters who disapprove of his political engagement with President Kibaki.

Signs that all was not well with the party that swept the boards in the last elections, was evident during the party’s parliamentary group meeting. Less than 40 of the party’s 102 MPs attended the meeting.

Although party Treasurer, Mr Omingo Magara explains that a host of MPs were involved in the parliamentary by-elections’ nomination, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Public Investments Committee (PIC) meeting in Mombasa, the deficit is still huge.

Hints of disquiet

Meanwhile, the ODM backbencher points out that even as he ceded ground “after being robbed of victory”, he did it for the sake of this country. “But from the look of things, it is clear that these people have something else up their sleeves,” he charges.

Asked to comment on the allegations, Karua refused to be drawn into the discussion. She said only the PM himself was best placed to react.

“I have not heard such a complaint from ODM. But if you insist on my response, then I will only do so after hearing it from them or reading it in the papers,” said the influential minister allied to PNU.

Although Raila has kept his cool, a couple of his ODM ministers, especially Mr James Orengo (Lands), have thrown hints to the effect that their boss and party are being undermined.

Last week, the vocal Ugenya MP warned his PNU allied colleagues against thinking they were “more ministers than their ODM counterparts”.

He, in the same light, warned junior Government officers against disregarding ODM ministers.

“We know a plot has been hatched to humiliate the PM because Kibaki and PNU were never interested in dialogue over the December electoral fraud, in the first place. Although few want to talk about it within ODM, we all know it and are doing something about it,” says the MP.

Even more glaring indicators of the problem are latest developments such as the handover to Government and alleged sale of the Grand Regency Hotel by businessman, Mr Kamlesh Pattni. The PM who has openly confessed he had no knowledge of the move, and has since asked relevant Government officers to furnish him with “proper details”.

Similarly, the PM, who by the nature of his position in Government is supposed to be at the centre of its operations, was reportedly kept in dark over the return of businessman Deepak Kamani, the man alleged to be the key player in the multi-billion shilling Anglo Leasing scandal.

Asked to react to the simmering tension, an Assistant minister of Trade in the Office of Deputy Prime Minister, Magara, brushed off the issue as a transitional challenge. The office, he said, was barely a month old and the Government was “cleaning up its act”.

The minister would not, however, reconcile the fact that the Head of Civil Service was running an almost parallel office with related roles as the Prime Minister’s.

The ODM Spokesman, Mr Salim Lone is more optimistic. Pointing out that progress is being made. Lone says the PM is intensely involved in learning about Government and ministries and is constantly briefed by ministers and Permanent Secretaries.

“Of course, there are challenges, which is to be expected in such an unprecedented arrangement, but there are daunting,” he added.

The PM’s office remains at the Treasury House, which also houses Finance Minister. It is the holder of the docket, Mr Amos Kimunya, who vacated his space for Raila.

Albeit the PM’s array of responsibilities and support staff, The Sunday Standard has established that the PM has been allocated 11 offices at the Treasury, which fall far below the requirement. But arrangements are under way for the PM to move to Shell House within six months.

On moving to Treasury House, a Ministry of Finance official casually remarked that the PM would have to make do with the furniture and other facilities available since the Government “lacked enough cash” to foot such a bill.

Perhaps owing to this and other challenges, the US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger made a disclosure that the US had committed $500,000 (Sh30.5 million) to support the development of the PM’s office.

In an earlier interview with The Sunday Standard, Ranneberger said his country was putting hope in the PM’s office because of the role the Constitution has assigned it – to co-ordinate and supervise government ministries.

Junior officers not cooperating

In the meantime, tension continues and it is the apparent defiance by junior officers and colleagues, which Orengo points out, that exacerbate the situation.

While snubbing a meeting called last month by Raila to meet US ambassador, Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula took a swipe at the PM for inviting “busy ministers” to meet a “junior embassy officials”.

But even more telling has been the habit of junior officers jumping in to react to the PM’s statements. The latest was his call for amnesty for youth held by police for allegedly fanning post-election violence. A quick response came from police spokesman.

The apparent frustrations notwithstanding, the PM looks strong, focused and determined.

Says Lone: “Everything aside, the Prime Minister and the President are developing a rapport and real co-operation is emerging between the two.”

Nonetheless, the ODM official does not rule the fact that party politicking and positioning still thrive amid this loose understanding.

But in what could be an indicator that he is the ‘co-ordinator and supervisor’ of ministries’ functions, the PM plans to visit Mau Forest with ministers and senior officials from the Ministries of Environment, Lands, Water, Security and Forests. If they turn up instead of sending representatives, Raila would have in his delegation to the area squatters were controversially evicted by government three Cabinet ministers from PNU: Prof George Saitoti, Environment minister John Michuki and Dr Noah Wekesa (Forestry and Wildlife).

The out of town excursion could give the country and his colleagues perceive idea of the extent of Raila ‘seniority’. From ODM will be two outspoken ministers on the role of PM’s office –Mrs Charity Ngilu (Water) and Orengo.

Meanwhile, the picture of Raila as a man under siege from various interests in and outside his party continues to form. But to his credit he has the knack of sidestepping political landmines. But the question remains: what is really in it for him in the ruling coalition?

This question must also be preying on the mind of the man who before elections styled himself, thus: “I am that bridge – the bridge that links the historic moments of our past to the golden tomorrows of our future.’’

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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