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Grand Coalition Government: Has the union gone sour?

Published on June 8, 2008, 12:00 am

By Oscar Obonyo

Barely 50 days into a forced political marriage, the Grand Coalition Government is under a barrage of “friendly fire”.

Although initially fought quietly in the boardrooms, the battle has exploded with key generals, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, at the war front.

Delivering his Madaraka Day speech last Sunday, the President ordered that those who committed criminal acts during post-election violence be punished. Curiously, he announced his stand on the issue only minutes after Raila had explained the Government would resolve the problem.

The following day, a fired up PM adorning party colours attended a campaign rally in Nairobi’s Embakasi. Here Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) allied MPs made a “No Amnesty for Party Youths, No Reconciliation!” declaration.

When the two leaders signed the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement on February 28, they committed themselves to a “real” power sharing arrangement in Grand Coalition Government.

Then President Kibaki said: “My Government will fully support the implementation of the agreements reached under the National Dialogue and Reconciliation process until we achieve the results we want.”

President added, “There will be challenges along the way, but I am confident that through dialogue and a sense of unity and purpose for the good of all Kenyans, we shall succeed.”

Raila on the other side, said: “We should not waste a single minute to ensure that Kenyans seize the opportunity to get on with their lives. We should ensure that no Kenyan ever loses his life again senselessly.”

He noted that the crisis should be a springboard to a prosperous nation. Saying: “The crisis has taught Kenyans an important lesson to forge a firm foundation for a united country.”

But what Kenyans are seeing now is different. Differences followed almost immediately following an impasse over the formation of the Cabinet. Although the two principals finally agreed on a line-up, Raila’s ODM cried foul over what they claimed was portfolio imbalance.

What makes the emerging differences explosive is that politicians and the rest of Kenyans are roughly equally split in support of Kibaki and Raila. What is more is that the two leaders have now made public their differences.

From quiet boardroom battles, the wars between the two have finally come to the fore. And last Sunday, ugly symptoms of the same were displayed during the Madaraka Day Celebrations at Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium.

A common saying among some Kenyan communities suggests that if one wants to gauge the degree of respect a local chief commands, one only needs to observe the treatment accorded to his dog(s).

Depending on whether the chief’s hosts choose to stone the dog, kick it out from the house or spread a mat for it to lie on, one can judge aptly how his subjects or rivals regard the administrator.

The embarrassing incident where President Kibaki’s security detail handled the Premier’s security officers at VIP entrance to Nyayo Stadium, for instance, surprised many.

A source close to Raila told The Sunday Standard the PM was “utterly horrified” by the incident involving his bodyguards.

“Although he is aware of the discomfort among some top Government officials, he was at a loss as why anybody would want to stage such an ugly show on a national day before the eyes of local and international community as well as in the full glare of a live media coverage,” confided the source.

A few minutes earlier, there was an even more dramatic episode along Uhuru Highway involving the PM and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. The roadside standoff between the two leaders unfolded at exactly 10:27 am drawing the attention of motorists and a curious crowd of wananchi heading to Nyayo Stadium for the national fete.

In what must have been one of the-now-usual protocol wars between the two, the VP’s motorcade racing for the stadium stopped midway to park by the roadside. The PM’s convoy following almost immediately equally stopped and parked slightly ahead of the VP’s.

For nearly two minutes, wananchi watched in disbelief as aides of the two leaders shot out of their vehicles and squabbled over who should drive ahead and enter the stadium before the other.

The high drama died down when those in the Kalonzo motorcade opted to zoom ahead. But there was more drama ahead. Other than the scuffle at the VIP entrance involving his bodyguards, the Raila/Kalonzo feud — fresh from the roadside standoff — played out again at the main podium in the stadium.

Few might have noticed that as the PM walked in, all those seated at the presidential pavilion rose to shake his hand and share pleasantries, except for the VP. Save for few shared moments of plastic laughter, tension between the two reigned throughout the event presided over by the President.

While the Madaraka Day drama has been blamed on wrangles over the pecking order between Raila and Kalonzo, a section of ODM MPs attribute it to State House.

“Kalonzo is only but being used as a pawn in this war,” claimed one MP.

Although this is a quiet war, those close to the President and the Prime Minister maintain that the two principals are determined to ensure the Grand Coalition Government works and lasts through to 2012.

“I know for sure that the President was really proud of his achievements, especially economic recovery, during the Ninth Parliament. The post-election violence briefly halted and destroyed this progress, but he is eager to work to the end and leave a legacy,” observes Mr Njeru Githae, who is Assistant Minister for Local Government.

And the ODM Spokesman and Communication director Salim Lone, equally points out that Raila is committed to the coalition because he strongly believes it is the only way the Government can work and deliver to the people.

“He has demonstrated this locally and internationally even to the point of disappointing his own supporters,” Lone said.

“Lately the Prime Minister has embarked on a mission to explain to his supporters why he must work with Kibaki.”

And speaking yesterday at a funeral in Muhoroni constituency in Nyanza Province, the PM told off those casting aspersions that the Coalition might not work in harmony, saying their relationship is cordial.

“President Kibaki and I work in unity. The President’s duty is spelled very clearly in the Constitution, same as the PM’s role. So we work along our lines very well without friction,” he said.

Separately, The Sunday Standard has established that under the current security arrangements, the VP in fact enjoys more control than the PM. While Raila does not have a security detail while on private or official functions outside the country, Kalonzo does. It is not clear whether this is by default or design.

Nonetheless, the posting of the security detail to the President and the Premier definitely poses the biggest problem. For while Raila’s escort is led by a Chief Inspector of Police, that of Kibaki is led by a Deputy Commissioner of Police. The two officers are accordingly far apart in ranking and this possibly explains why officers in the PM’s detail, are treated as juniors by colleagues in the presidential escort.

“I was at the stadium on that day and I confirm to you that some junior ranking officers, including bodyguards of assistant ministers were allowed in through the VIP gate. So why would anyone Prime Minister’s guards?” poses a National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) official.

According to the NSIS official, the action was deliberate with the aim of sending a strong political message to the PM and his handlers.

Regretting the Nyayo Stadium incident, Githae, however, explains that it may have happened because this was the first public national function attended by the “big two”.

“This is still a learning process for all, the politicians and even the security forces. Otherwise, the presidential guards should have explained their case to their colleagues in a better way,” he says.

Citing instances involving US presidents, whose security detail ordinarily takes charge even in foreign countries, Githae explains that it is the norm for the presidential guards to take over security control at a presidential function that lasts over 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the current amnesty debate continues to exacerbate the rift between ODM and PNU politicians. Even on this, it is evident that political interests persuade Kibaki and Raila’s standpoints. The two seem driven by guilt following the bloody repercussions of post-election violence.

While Kibaki is keen on the IDP resettlement plan to “appease his people”, Raila is focused on securing amnesty for the pro-ODM youths police arrested. He cannot possibly enjoy the fruits of Grand Coalition Government while “his youths” languish in jail.

“As a society, we should reject those who incite others to violence. We should not spare them or those who recruit the gangs that cause mayhem,” said the President last Sunday.

Raila and ODM ministers have demanded the unconditional release of their supporters “because they committed no crime”.

“Is it a crime to fight for your democratic rights? Is it a crime to stand and say that last year’s elections were rigged?” posed the Prime Minister during a lawyers’ forum last week.

A number of sceptics within PNU and ODM have dismissed the political union between the two leaders with Water minister Charity Ngilu terming it, a “come-we-stay” marriage without a firm commitment.

But her Gender and Children Affairs colleague Esther Murugi is positive about the marriage analogy: “If the sceptics consider it a marriage, then I am sure it will work. This is because in a marriage couples give their very best to hold their union together.”

A host of other ministers polled by The Sunday Standard are equally optimistic the political marriage between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila would work this time.

“What we are observing are mere side-shows and they should be treated as such — mere side-shows,” said Fisheries Minister Dr Paul Otuoma.

Warning against focusing on the negative aspects of the Grand Coalition Government, the Funyula MP challenges everyone to first remember and understand “where we are coming from”.

He warns: “We are working on a negotiated document that pulled us from a crisis and anybody playing games now is playing with the lives of Kenyans.”

Both Otuoma and Murugi agree, however, that working, as unit is not easy.

Says Murugi, “It is very difficult to say whether the coalition will work but those who are for it are working hard in the best way they know how to ensure a smooth running.”

She points out that the biggest challenge is the amnesty question: “If we pass through this particular difficult hurdle then I think we shall succeed as the rest will follow with ease.”

Otuoma says there is nothing out of the ordinary in the current reactions.

“It is scientifically a proven fact that even in a class, it is normal to have fast and slow learners. So let us give everyone a chance. The doubting Thomases may soon realise that this coalition will have to work anyway,” he observes.

Nonetheless, the minister is alive to fact that apart from the disputed elections, there are other underlying issues, including land and political marginalisation that are responsible for the varied opinion on the amnesty question.

“We hope the amnesty question will not slow us down. And for those trying to make political capital from it, they are bent on nothing but undermining the very healing process that the country is going through,” he states.

But Dr Noah Wekesa, Forestry and Wildlife Minister, says the current crop of political leaders “has no option” but make this Government work.

“If they have an eye on 2012 and beyond, then they must work together to nurture this coalition because if it collapses the political equation will change drastically,” warns the Kwanza MP.

“We will end up with completely new players being thrust to leadership positions.”

The minister further suggests that a seminar for all MPs be immediately organised to help legislators understand the possible gains and concept behind grand coalitions. He even suggests that qualified speakers be identified from Germany and US to help the MPs gel better.

The life of the Tenth Parliament and indeed the Grand Coalition Government is largely dependent on the two leaders. They have done it before as a team, and succeeded but with serious hiccups as in 2002, when they parted ways under Narc because of failure by one party to honour a Memorandum of Understanding.

They came together as a team and managed to destroy Kanu, but today they are busy destroying one another. To Kibaki’s advantage, though, he is doing his last five-year lap of leadership. As for Raila, every step he makes matters as he would be judged by the same in future.


About SG

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


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