Sunday, March 28, 2010


Rising tension and simmering acrimony between President Kibaki and Prime minister Raila Odinga are threatening to derail the Grand Coalition Government.

Our investigations reveal the relationship between the Big Two has deteriorated to the extent that below the veneer of partnership they occasionally exhibit at public functions, they do not see eye-to-eye.

Their falling out was most evident a few days ago when former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who mediated Kenya’s political crisis, came calling in but could not secure a joint meeting with them.
Despite public show of unity, investigations show Prime Minister Raila odinga and President Kibaki are not in talking terms as one party gives Annan three demands it insists must be met.

Multiple sources indicated the cracks between the two were evident to Annan from Tuesday as those planning his itinerary tried in vain to secure a joint meeting of the two principals, as has been the tradition.

"After fruitless efforts on the first two days and because timing was running out, he eventually opted to meet the principals separately," said one source in the Office of the President who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak to the Press.

While fielding questions from journalists during his press briefing on Friday at the end of his four-day visit, Annan stressed the need for President Kibaki and Raila to consult.

How coalitions work

"They need to work together more closely and consult, consult and consult for that is how a coalition government works," he said.

During his last year’s visit to Kenya, Annan met the two leaders at Harambee House, and the two released a joint statement. This time, the offices of President and Premier released separate briefs on their meetings with Annan.

And it was telling that the Prime Minister told the Press that he had told Annan corruption must be fought from the top downwards and not vice versa.

Raila was obviously referring to his differences with Kibaki over his unsuccessful suspension of Agriculture Minister William Ruto and Education Minister Sam Ongeri over allegations of corruption.

Sources close to the Prime Minister revealed that Raila gave his conditions for normal relations with his co-principal to be restored. He said his party would not attend Cabinet meetings before the matter on Ruto and Ongeri was conclusively addressed; a commitment given that graft would be fought from the top; and that the Cabinet would take a stand on the Proposed Constitution once it is passed by Parliament.

Sources close to the two principals intimated to The Standard On Sunday that whereas the President and Prime Minister had started warming up to each other, the spat over the suspensions — which President Kibaki overturned within hours — was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Weekly consultations

Since then, Kibaki and Raila have not held any meeting, including their weekly consultations that used to be held on Wednesdays, a day to the traditional Thursday Cabinet meetings.

This scenario has, in turn, paralysed the weekly Cabinet meetings for the last two months, leaving in its trail scores of unattended matters.

The Cabinet could not, for example, meet to make its input on the inaugural Budget Policy Statement. Eventually, Assistant Finance Minister Oburu Oginga tabled the document on behalf of Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta last Tuesday without the Cabinet’s input.

Reached for comment, Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula denied existence of hostilities between the President and Prime Minister.

"The meetings have taken a break because the President released us to engage fully in the constitution-making process at Naivasha and in Parliament. Otherwise Government continues to run smoothly," the PNU allied minister sought to assure.

His ODM allied colleague, Amason Jeffa Kingi (East African Cooperation) was more guarded. He declined to confirm or deny that there was a simmering problem in Government.

"I simply have no idea as to why we have not been meeting," he said.

The Standard On Sunday has confirmed that the PM sent firm communication to the President stating that his side of Government would not attend Cabinet meetings until the Ruto-Ongeri issue was decisively addressed. However, the President is reportedly opposed to any action against Ruto and Ongeri, partly for fear that it might polarise the political environment and poison the pre-referendum campaigns.

And there lies the major standoff between the two principals. How is the Premier expected to sit in the same Cabinet and work with individuals he suspended? On the flipside, how can the President eat his own words by reversing the reprieve on Ruto and Ongeri?

Reasons for disharmony

Conceding that there are "reasons for disharmony" in Government, Water Assistant minister Maina Kiunjuri, however, offers that Annan might have deliberately opted to meet the two principals separately.

"There are obviously deep seated issues around the two and Annan might have wanted to dig out the problem. You see, it is easier to pick out one’s sense of feeling in the absence of a second party, or the one being accused," said the Laikipia East MP.

Kiunjuri further attributes the current crisis to the positions taken by the two leaders: "I want to believe that they have even talked and agreed on the way forward. Nonetheless, it is important that they make their views known."

This position is advanced by ODM MPs, who claim that the current misunderstanding is actually an attempt to try and force Raila out ahead of the new constitution.

They claim that some PNU-allied politicians were extremely worried about the transitional clause requiring that the PM be consulted in appointing constitutional office holders, especially the Chief Justice, Police chief, Attorney General and IIEC commissioners. But reached for comment, the PM’s Director of Communication, Dennis Onyango, denied knowledge of any "serious tensions" between the two principals.

Although he conceded that the two had not held their weekly consultative meetings, "nothing is out of hand yet".

Bad publicity

However, Annan is not in doubt that things are out of control.

He reportedly told the two principals that progress on the realisation of a new constitution had been overshadowed by bad publicity due to graft within Government.

The former UN boss is said to have warned the two principals that whatever other hallmarks they registered were meaningless as the world still looked at Kenya in bad light for its apparent thriving corruption practices.

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