Raila’s confessions on grand coalition
Published on June 18, 2008, 12:00 am
By Chris Wamalwa in Washington DC
and David Ohito in Nairobi
On his first official trip to the US, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has spoken candidly of painful sacrifices President Kibaki and himself made to salvage Kenya from the post-election crisis.
Raila talked of a delicate balancing act and how President Kibaki and himself made decisions they knew were unpopular with their supporters, but which had to be taken as Kenyans cried their hearts out for the country to be saved.
The PM said he accepted a bloated Cabinet with a lot of pain for the sake of peace, and admitted it was challenging looking for funds to support the large Government.
|From left: MPs Lucas Kigen, David Kones, Ababu Namwamba and Isaac Ruto, who are calling for a grand opposition, at a Press conference at Parliament Buildings on Tuesday. In the US, Raila said he made decisions that were unpopular with his supporters for the sake of peace. Picture by Andrew Kilonzi|
Raila was speaking to US Government officials and members of the Centre for Strategic International Studies at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington DC.
Raila, who has been invited by the US government, is expected to meet Secretary of State, Ms Condoleeza Rice Wednesday, to brief her on the working of the Grand Coalition Government.
The PM, who is on a three-day visit, is also scheduled to meet top Congress figures, World Bank officials and the business community.
Kenya’s Ambassador to the US, Mr Peter Ogego, said it was the first time a senior Government official had visited the US since the formation of the Grand Coalition Government.
Raila is accompanied by the Defence minister, Mr Yussuf Haji, his Transport counterpart, Mr Chirau Mwakwere, Assistant minister Omingo Magara and coalition Chief Whips, Mr Jakoyo Midiwo and Mr George Thuo.
“The soul-searching we went through on our journey to that point, the sacrifices and compromises that had to be made, the need to address Kenyans’ sense of being wronged and their unresolved grievances, all made for a delicate balancing act,” said Raila.
He added: “We had to make many difficult, perhaps unpopular decisions along the way. In this, we had the inestimable support of the civil society and religious groups and of sections of the media.”
“Most of all, we had the patience and hope of our fellow countrymen and women. In the end, Kenyans cried from the heart for their beloved country to be saved,” he added.
Raila also hinted at the teething hitches that have rocked the coalition Government.
“The coalition is itself a new concept. It will demand many decisions that arise simply from the newness of its own structure,” Raila said.
“President Kibaki and I are acutely aware that we cannot do everything overnight. It is the nature of people to look for flaws, rifts and disagreements, and the extreme politicisation of our media and of our people mean that contentious issues are bound to arise in a coalition such as ours,” Raila added.
In his briefing with Rice, Raila is expected to take her through the delicate balancing in the coalition Government.
Raila will sign two key agreements between Kenya and the US —the Kenya-US Open Skies Agreement and the renewal of the Kenya-US Peace Corps Agreement.
Last night, the PM was expected to field questions on the coalition Government from Kenyans in the US at a reception hosted by the ambassador at the George Washington University.
Scores of Kenyans have travelled from different parts of the US to attend the meeting.
In his speech on Tuesday, Raila appealed for patience and compromise as leaders embrace different opinions in the new Government.
He said because of the size of the coalition Government, it had been decided that the Cabinet would function more efficiently if business were conducted in committees.
Five of have been formed — finance and administration, infrastructure, social services, the productive sector and security.
Raila underscored the need for a new constitution, saying it was the only cushion against recurrence of crises.
He criticized the ECK, saying had it been prepared constitutionally to be impartial, the political disaster that befell Kenya after December 27 General Election would have been averted.
Raila said the disputed election was the culmination of ECK’s bungling that dogged the election and termed the election team a “lame duck” which lacked constitutional powers to exercise impartiality.
He cited key electoral laws that require reform as the mode of appointment of ECK commissioners, ECK independence and source of its funding.
“Lack of regulation in these vital areas led to a situation where the ECK, as it was last year, was not independent and not, therefore, capable of being impartial,” Raila said.
He said reform was a crucial component of the overhaul required in legislation. He lamented that the electoral and social crisis had damaged the economy, with growth projected to drop to 4.5 per cent this year from seven per cent last year.
“The situation is worsened by the rapidly rising cost of oil and the world food crisis. The political crisis and consequent insecurity, and the displacement of 350,000 Kenyans, meant many crops were not planted in time, nor have the rains been kind to us. As a result, very difficult 12 months lie ahead,” he said.
Raila appealed to the US government and international agencies to support Kenya in its hour of need.
Kenya embassy officials received Raila, whose plane touched down at the Dulles Airport in DC minutes after 3pm.