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Raila Odinga from the Luo community in Kenya differs with the Kalenjins (Former presdent Moi’s tribe)

Posted by African Press International on November 16, 2008

Railas fresh troubles as party chief and PM

By Oscar Obonyo

Prime Minister Raila Odingas homecoming in Langata is six days away, but behind the scenes there is brewing discontent.

The red flag went up on Saturday when his ally, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, told a public meeting if Kalenjins, one of Railas key planks in the last General Election, walked out on retired President Moi, they would have no problem abandoning Raila if he does not change tack. Raila, who narrowly missed the presidency, believes his victory was stolen. But he points out he held back his claim to State House to save the country. In return he became PM and half the Cabinet to pass around his team.

But that is as far as this chapter that changed the course of Kenyas goes. In Railas words, it was akin to sharing meat from your stolen cow with the one who raided your kraal.

Raila juggles so many balls at the same time without letting one fall. If it does, it could leave him exposed, both in Government and his election vehicle Orange Democratic Movement.

Raila faces probably one of the toughest challenges of his political career, except probably for the torturous years he spent in detention in 1980s.

Raila is juggling his national duties as PM and leader of the giant ODM political party, without losing focus of the core challenges of the delicate Grand Coalition Government.

At the same time, the PM also has a foot outside the Kenyan borders where he is increasingly projecting himself as a Pan-Africanist as well as the voice of the new African leadership. But even as he puts in a word for Zimbabwes Prime minister-designate, Morgan Tsvangirai, over the political stalemate in that country, questions abound at home about his position in the ruling coalition.

His main headache is in ODM. He has clashed with members of the Kipsigis community over the conservation of the Mau Forest and the planned evictions of those living in the region, among other concerns.

But it is the PMs handling of the Justice Phillip Waki Report on post-election violence that is undermining the unity of the party.

A cross-section of ODM MPs admit Raila the party leader is under siege and they fear their party could be falling apart.

The latest row saw the PM clash with some of his allies, including Cabinet ministers William Ruto (Agriculture), Charity Ngilu (Water), William ole Ntimama (National Heritage) and Fred Gumo (Regional Development). The ministers opposed implementation of the Waki Report.

“Things have been so polarised and the tension so high that if a Motion of no-confidence against the PM came up in Parliament, I am sure a number of us in ODM would have been tempted to support it,” concedes Konoin MP Julius Kones.

Raila, in what appears to be a fight-back move and appreciation of his new circumstance last week said in a radio interview he would quit the premiership if the report victimises to his ministers, MPs and supporters.

This state of affairs reinforces last weeks events in which two FM radio stations broadcasting in Dholuo and Kalenjin languages fielded questions from listeners. Most callers expressed frustrations with the party leadership.

Setting up the PM

“We are beginning to feel the PM is increasingly being left with a can of worms in his armpits. Somebody is setting up the PM by making him look dirty,” says Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang.

Terming unfair scheme, the Mbita MP said Kibaki is President and Head of Government, while the PM has been left to clear the chaff by playing the public relations exercise. “We are suffering in two ways. We are shouldering the burden of heading the Government, which practically we are not, while at the same time taking flak for all its wrong-doings,” Kajwang added.

“Sometimes we ask ourselves, why do we shoulder this burden when our man is not Head of Government? Because Jakom (Chairman, as Raila is commonly referred to by his supporters), is not Head of Government, he should stop shouldering Kibakis burden and taking abuses and dirt on behalf of the President,” said Assistant minister.

It does not help matters the Office of PM appears not to be as powerful as was defined in the National Reconciliation Accord.

The party feels the Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura, who carries out parallel supervisory and co-ordination duties in Government, as the PM office appears to be ceremonial.

Last month, Lands Minister James Orengo, claimed the Head of Civil Service was creating another centre of power, contrary to the National Reconciliation Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008.

“I am saying this without fear of contradiction. The PM should be in charge of running affairs of Government. Muthauras office is creating another centre of power, which is not in the Constitution,” said Orengo.

The minister turned attention to grumbling in the party that it got a raw deal in the accord and that Kibaki was not committed to a 50-50 power-sharing deal with ODM.

Of particular concern are appointments to Government positions. Apart from the ministerial seats and a few Permanent Secretary slots, the ODM leadership has not influenced postings within Government. This reality has reportedly caused discontent among key party supporters.

Portfolio balance in diplomatic postings is raising temperatures in the Grand Coalition Government. The Premiers office has written to Muthaura, pointing out that ODM is yet to get its share of diplomatic appointments.

In a letter dated October 3 and copied to PS Foreign Affairs Thuita Mwangi, the PM wants the political appointments shared on a 50:50 basis between the two coalition partners PNU and ODM as enshrined in the National Reconciliation Accord.

And owing to the growing disenchantment, a number of Rift Valley MPs are working with other political players. Last month, a group of 19 ODM MPs had an hour-long private meeting with the President at State House, Nakuru.

Those in attendance have generally hinted that the meeting focused on “political and development issues” but the mere fact that they are not willing to say much is telling. Other similar meetings are reportedly planned.

Listens to councillors

The situation in Rift Valley is particularly bad because of Railas perceived row with MPs. Some of the legislators accuse the PM of attempting to undermine them “by ignoring us and listening to councillors instead”.

But it is the Mau Forest question that is emotive: “Much as the PM wants to address environmental issues in Mau, why does he allow himself to be misused by the Government to fight us? We are his people and he should never fight his own. We do not mind Kibaki doing that,” says Cherangany MP, Joshua Kutuny.

Kajwang concurs: “Our man inherited a PNU problem from (Amos) Kimunya (former Lands Minister) and President Kibaki, who kicked off the Mau evictions in 2004. We should just offload this burden to them.”

Separately, on the Waki Report, Mr Kutuny slams the ODM leadership: “Much as something needs to be done, the party leadership handled this matter rather insensitively, by asking some of us to carry our own crosses,” he said.

Kutuny further says Railas major undoing is distancing himself from party affairs and instead focusing on the bigger picture in Government and the international community. “We get this feeling he has forgotten his flock and is now more focused on the West. I just do not understand how this counts more than local support?” poses Dr Kones.

Despite the tell tale signs, Fisheries Minister Paul Otuoma maintains that all is well: “ODM and the PM, in particular, is democratic. What we are witnessing is healthy for the party.”

“As long as we are not tearing into each other publicly and I hope it does not get there then there is no cause for alarm,” he adds.

“These are the challenges of our time from the new crop of young MPs. Kenyans must be prepared for it because it is going to be the trend. This kind of openness among youthful politicians is happening everywhere, including PNU and ODM-Kenya. We are definitely not an exception,” says Dr Otuoma.

Raila is also the Langata MP, and the homecoming will be a time to thank voters for electing him as their legislator for the fourth time for another five-year term.

Personal differences

But Kajwang sees in the ongoing standoff the proverbial game of musical chairs: “It is either the calls of amnesty to our youths. Stopping Mau Forest evictions. We were short-changed over Cabinet slots. We demand the deputy party leaders position, or throw out Waki Report all which are interchangeably thrown at the PM to intimidate him.”

The minister observes that although some of the claims by the Rift Valley MPs are genuine, the real problem gravitates around Rutos regional power game.

“There are no personal differences between Raila and Ruto. I am aware they meet and talk often. The reason for the emerging rift between the two is that Ruto wants to challenge Raila for political power in 2012,” says Kajwang.

“He is gathering his troops for that political fight. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ambitious, but the only problem is the manner our friend is doing it. It is wrecking the party and gravely hurting our collective chance in 2012,” says an Assistant Minister.

Kutuny, however, argues Ruto is prepared for a clean competition: “We have decided we shall not move out and get boxed in a tribal or regional party. We have met and discussed all these and our position is we are prepared to fight from within and eclipse those on our way.”



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