African Press International (API)

"Daily Online News Channel".

Posted by African Press International on August 24, 2008

By Standard on Sunday Reporter

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, often described as the centre of gravity of Kenyas politics, today exudes the confidence of a man at the place of honour at high table. This is besides the bitterness over what he called a victory snatched from his hands

Prime Minister Raila Odinga (centre) tours the port before announcing management changes recently. Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard

Raila is fast emerging as a man willing to confront delicate issues that could alienate him from his supporters, and ironically convince the enemy he could have been given a rope to hang and he may not disappoint.

In recent months, the PM has taken on a string of sensitive local and international issues, earning himself both praise and condemnation.

On the other hand, for a man who vowed he would after the contested elections live to fight another day, even as he balances a thousand interests, is along with the ministers he brought to the Cabinet, projecting the image of a working and coherent team.

From hosting and speaking of admiration for former Governance and Ethics PS John Githongo, who says he bugged and burst the Presidents men, to plunging into the controversial issue of impending Mau Forest evictions, Raila continues to exhibit bravado and sacrifice associated with his life.

Appearing to lead in public appearances, and working under President Kibaki who prefers to pull the strings from behind the curtain, Raila continues to entrench his office in the position for which it was curved in Dr Kofi Annans peace deal.

As ministers signed performance contracts before him, and as he led a ministerial delegation to Britain, the signal he is no pushover, smarting from the portfolio and protocol wars, he has projected national attention to himself and his on-and-off friend President Kibaki.

But layered on top of this, despite the bitterness of what he called stolen victory in January through to May, the PMs office seems to finally be drawing energy from the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008. It is here that it is mandated to supervise and co-ordinate execution of the work of Government and ministries.

Raila was the first African leader to question President Robert Mugabes contested re-election in Zimbabwe, even calling him an eye-shore on the continent. He also asked the African Union to suspend Zimbabwe until Mugabe held proper elections.

At home, the PM has taken on the delicate and volatile issue of conserving Mau Forest, a source of 12 rivers, putting himself at loggerheads with the residents who he calls, my people, my supporters.

Civil society

At the Coast, he took on the regions MPs over their demand the top position at the Kenya Ports Authority be reserved for a person from the region. The PM has termed such demands as cheap politics. The President on the same day, and by implication, threw his weight behind him.

On Saturday, the PM was on the case of the civil society, a group he has had long ties with. The PM told the civil society their role in constitution making is over.

Some of his close associates, including party MPs, worry that the positions the PM is taking could cost him votes. Some of those affected by the PMs pronouncements have told him they may not vote for him again.

But Raila says it is leadership.

Leaders are elected to lead, not to follow the people. You cant tell people to follow you then you remain behind. You must move in front. That is what I have done in regard to the Mau Forest. Leaders often have information and data that their followers dont have. We have a duty to educate the people, the PM says.

As a leader, some of the issues you have to take up may be unpopular but very, very critical to the survival of the nation. You must take a stand. There may be some populist positions but they may be detrimental to the nation in the long run.

He adds: Leaders have to advise people against bad practises. In the long run, the nation will appreciate.

Last month, the PM braved threats from a section of MPs from the Rift Valley who oppose the removal of those settled in the forest. He formed a task force that will work with local communities in addressing the Mau issue.

The committee will demarcate and fence off the 400,000-hectare Mau complex, a lifeline for millions of people. It will also mobilise resources to restore the water tower.

On Saturday, the PM said he was against populist leadership but maintained he was not turning his back on supporters.

Populist leadership is cheap.

Populist leadership can easily ruin a country. The whole world knows that what is happening in Mau is not sustainable. It will not destroy the Rift Valley alone, but the entire sub-region, Raila said.

The PM said studies have shown that the flooding in many parts of the country, the silting making the lakes shallower have to do with the degradation of the Mau complex.

He cited the Sondu and Mara river systems, which flow into Lake Victoria, and the Ewaso Ngiro system, which flows into Lake Natron, as some of the endangered water masses.

The Mau, he said, is also the main watershed for Lake Nakuru, which is fed by the Njoro, Makalia and Enderit rivers.

If River Mara dies, he said, the world famous Masai Mara in Kenya and parts of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania would also die.

Stand on port

This is not a question of who is right and who is wrong. The issue is that it was a mistake to allow people to settle there. If we allow the Mau to deteriorate further, tea planting will end in the Rift Valley. Even growing of maize will end. The region is experiencing less and less rain, he says.

Soon we will have a desert and pass it to our children. Is that the legacy we want? We decided that Mau requires progressive leadership and that is the way it will be, he adds.

But he maintains the people being removed from the Mau would be given alternative land.

Some say the people in Mau have title deeds. But the truth is, they should not have been there. It is like buying a pair of suits from somebody who had stolen it. When you are caught, it will be taken away, and then you will be charged with handling stolen property. In our case, we are saying, just give us back the suit; we will give you other clothes to wear. The people in Mau will be given alternative land, the PM said.

This week, President Kibaki goes to the Coast where the regions MPs are waiting to lodge a complaint with him over the PMs stand on the port. About two weeks ago, the MPs told the PM to keep off the affairs of the Transport Ministry and KPA. The MPs said a person from the Coast should manage the port.

But the PM told them to their face that they were pursuing cheap politics, arguing any qualified person should run KPA.

In an interview yesterday, the PM maintained he was acting in the best interests of the nation. He accused Coast MPs, almost all of them from his ODM party, of blackmailing the nation.

We cannot ethnicise public institutions, said Raila.



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