Saturday, April 5, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia

Finally it is out. What Kenyans have waited for, for six weeks has finally come to pass. Kibaki and Raila eventually agreed on their long anticipated cabinet. However, the size of that government left many Kenyans numbed. After weeks of haggling over the size and which portfolios to go to who; the country was presented with a bloated forty member cabinet, the largest in Kenya’s history.

Apologists for the big government have been quick to endorse this extravagance as a necessary burden for the sake of peace. They have added that since some ministries have been split, there will be no significant additions to the budget since the split ministries have already been catered for in the current financial year. What they are not telling us is that ministers are never known to share cars, bodyguards, residential houses and offices. Each one flies their own flags and entourage wherever they go. Another thing, they don’t share salaries, allowances and per diems while on duty. Therefore for Alfred Mutua to mollify us that there will be no significant increase in government expenditure is to test our level of intelligence to the limit.

The truth is; since the number of ministries has gone up by six which averages at 17%, the cost of maintaining ministries will rise by at least 17%. That is the reality we must face whether we support or oppose the new cabinet.

On another level; let us look at the implications of this new cabinet and its impact on coalition partners. Perhaps the happiest politicians in the new administration will be fringe parties like Kanu and ODM Kenya that will not bear the burden of explaining themselves to the already angry electorate. They have taken refuge in the fact that the ODM-PNU Accord only recognizes two principals who can make or break the coalition. As it is, the future of Uhuru and Kalonzo very much depends on Kibaki. If Kibaki sinks, they sink too.

President Kibaki is also a big beneficiary of the bloated cabinet. The man never promised Kenyans a lean, clean and efficient cabinet, therefore he doesn’t have to worry with the civil society. Moreover, the man is on his last leg and will be ineligible for future public office. If there are any aspiring candidates in his camp for the State House, that will be his least worry. If anything, as soon as the Cabinet is in place and Raila takes over as the Prime Minister, chances are that Mwai Kibaki will proceed on a long leave pending his retirement.

The biggest loser in this scenario will be Raila Amolo Odinga. He is the one who promised Kenyans change in the way we do things. He is the man who promised Kenyans a lean, clean and efficient cabinet. He is the one who will supervise the 90 or 120 likely MPs to be appointed to the cabinet. He is the one who will be subjected to interrogation in Parliament on government performance. In other words, as far as government performance will be concerned, the back will stop with him.

However the immediate backlash that should concern Raila Odinga is the swift and furious reaction to the cabinet by the interreligious pressure groups.

Right now it would appear like the opposition to the bloated cabinet is coming from unlikely quarters; the GEMA community and churches that have been allied to PNU. Whether churches from Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Province will join forces with their Mt Kenya counterparts is another matter. However, if the Muslims who supported Raila during the elections join the voices of dissent, then Raila will have his hands full.

Reading online literature on the mood on the ground, it would appear like major civil society organizations like Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Africa Transparency Watch, Transparency International and Wangari Mathai’s Green Belt are closing ranks with major international donor agencies to oppose the bloated cabinet. If they continue to grumble, eyes will be turned on the progressive Raila Odinga to see if he will listen to the voices of Kenyans.

The scenario above not withstanding; the fact remains that it was the most ill-advised thing for Kibaki and Raila to succumb to pressure from their followers in forming a bloated cabinet. It was worse that Raila Odinga agreed to go along with Kibaki on this treacherous road. Forming a cabinet of 40 members at a time when IDPs are still chilling out in biting weather was the most insensitive thing to do.

Enlarging the cabinet before they even overhauled the constitution, resettled the landless and provided free secondary education was a most unwise thing to do.

So where do we go from here? Do we sit and wait assuming that there was some unseen wisdom that the two principals had that would make this government work? Do we sit and wait in the hope that some good thing will come out this seemingly obnoxious arrangement? Will the MPs left out of this big government rock the boat from without or will they support it regardless of public outcry?

Should Raila lose the trust of the people of Kenya, will they trust him in 2012 when he returns to the electorate with more promises?

May be it is too early to predict the outcome.