Sunday, May 18, 2008



Published on May 18, 2008, 12:00 am
Sunday Standard

By Dennis Onyango

The Grand Coalition Government, whose Cabinet met for the first time on Thursday, is shaping up like a replay of the National Rainbow Coalition, which first brought together President Kibaki and Raila Odinga in 2003.

As was in 2003 when disagreements on the Memorandum of Understanding caused trouble from the beginning until 2005 when Narc collapsed, the Grand Coalition appears to have begun on like footing.

This time, instead of the MoU, the fate of those arrested over post-election violence is shaping up to be the critical issue to determine whether the Coalition stands or collapses before the 2012 General Election.

Disagreements over MoU made President Kibaki run a troubled government for five years, cobbling unlikely alliances for a rough ride through his first term that now seems set to be replicated.

As was in 2003 when the MoU simmered, mutated and eventually killed the National Rainbow Coalition, the fate of the thousands of youth being held in police stations, especially in the Rift Valley, may determine the fate of the Coalition Government.

Even after President Kibaki and the PM called for unity and common approach to issues during bonding a week ago, differences in public have persisted.

Battle lines drawn

Lines are being drawn between "the clean" and the "unclean," villains of violence and victims.

Last Sunday, at the homecoming party for Public Health and Sanitation Minister Mrs Beth Mugo in Dagoretti, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Justice Minister Martha Karua led a PNU team in rejecting ODM’s demand that people arrested over post-election violence be released.

"Anybody who had a hand in post-election violence must face the law. Those who took part or hid behind their tribes while 1,500 Kenyans were killed and 350,000 evicted from their homes must face the law, no matter how long it takes."

The VP drew the line between those with cases to answer and those who do not, adding a rider that he would not mention names.

MPs, including Cabinet ministers and assistant ministers, have taken divergent positions on whether to grant amnesty to those arrested in post-election violence or prosecute them.

Politicians from the Rift Valley are tying the success of the resettlement and reconciliation efforts to the release of the youth.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, speaking in Eldoret North constituency, repeated that the thousands of young people arrested in the chaos should be released unconditionally, as part of reconciliation.

"If we want the peace efforts to succeed, we have to forgive each other first and then release the youth arrested in connection with the violence," Ruto said.

The minister says innocent people are in custody and they should be freed so the healing can begin.

The case of the youth being held in police stations across the Rift Valley has ceased being an affair only for the region’s leaders. Instead, it is taking party dimensions. ODM, which swept the vote in the Rift Valley, sees the arrest as persecution of its supporters.

The matter is particularly critical for Rift Valley MPs, whose re-election may depend on the resettlement of the internally displaced persons and the fate of the youth in police custody.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga is said to have opted for a quiet approach, but has raised the issue with President Kibaki. The PM is said to have raised the matter with the President at every stop during their tour of the Rift Valley last month. He, too, thinks the incarceration of the youth from the region could undermine reconciliation.

ECK still free, so should the youths

On Saturday, Lands Minister James Orengo added his voice to the issue, saying the continued detention of the youth makes no sense at a time no action has been taken against the Electoral Commission of Kenya officials, whose conduct, he says, triggered the chaos.

The minister said he is concerned that ODM’s coalition partners are talking as if their position is the official one. He says the youth in custody are being persecuted for demanding that their votes should count.

"What gave birth to the chaos is the fact that there was an indeterminate position at the end of the elections. The ECK said it could not tell who won. That indeterminate position is what gave birth to the chaos," Orengo said.

The minister agreed with his Agriculture colleague, Ruto, that it was the resistance of the youth that gave birth to the coalition, and it did not make sense to praise the power sharing arrangement, while the youth were being detained.

"Without the resistance and determination of these young people against injustice, the National Accord would not have come," the minister said.

Orengo said he sees double standards in the application of the law.

"We are seeing a situation where one side says the law must apply no matter the consequences. But that same side is not keen on investigating those who caused the election crisis or those who falsified and manipulated election results," the minister said.

"Somebody should have been in court today, charged with the criminal offence of manipulating election results. The youths being held are victims of injustice. In a democracy, every vote counts. When one vote is tampered with, the voter is justified to protest. We cannot say the voters are only important when they are casting the vote and they should have no say whether that vote counts," Orengo added.

Konoin MP Dr Julius Kones says there are over 1,000 youths being held in police stations across the province.

Complex issue

"Most of them are yet to be taken to court, months after they were arrested," he said.

"I am sorry this may be taking the direction of the troubles that destroyed Narc. But this is far more complex and could be worse than the troubles the MoU gave Narc," the MP said.

He added: "For this reconciliation to work, these young men must be released. They created this Government."

Last month, the Government appointed Court of Appeal judge, Justice Philip Waki to chair a mini-commission to investigate post-election violence.

The appointment came after weeks of consultations by members of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation team.

Waki will lead the judicial mini-commission, whose two other members are yet to be appointed.

The Independent Review Commission investigating the bungled presidential election is also working.

The commission, chaired by retired judge, Justice Johaan Kriegler is, however, running into trouble.

On Friday, Mr Kriegler said his commission faced many challenges in investigating the poll fiasco, largely because the two key partners — Party of National Unity and Orange Democratic Party — have "very different interests in the inquiry".

He said the major bone of contention was the presidential vote tallying, which is still a major concern.

The Kriegler commission began work on March 15, and is mandated to investigate all aspects of the presidential election, and make findings and recommendations to improve the electoral process. It has six months to conclude its report.

Orengo said if the Government acted in good faith, it would release all those in custody and wait for the findings of the Waki and Kriegler commissions before arrests.

"People have been taken to court only for them to be freed for lack of evidence, after being held for months," Orengo said.

He gave the example of Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi who was charged with a string of offences only for the cases to fail when he was taken to court.

"People are being arrested just to show the strong arm of the law. They should be freed until all the commissions have done their work," Orengo reiterated.

"I fear that the other side are not talking as partners. They talk as if they are the Government. What Ruto, the PM and myself are saying should be listened to," he added.

By "the other side," Orengo meant PNU leaders, led by Justice Minister Ms Martha Karua. The PNU leaders have stated that justice must run its course, even as some of them call for negotiations with proscribed Mungiki sect.

Succession politics

Complicating things more is the fact that politicians appear to have hit the road to 2012, with succession in their minds, just like 2003, when every political decision was taken with 2007 General Election in mind.

Government Chief Whip, Mr George Thuo, agrees that a pattern of agreement and disagreement similar to what took place soon after Narc took power in 2003 appears to be shaping up.

But he is optimistic that differences in opinion this time will not lead to collapse of the coalition.

"When you look at precedent, it is possible to conclude that things can go wrong when members of the same government take different positions on one issue," Thuo said.

Thuo said his hope is that the proposed leadership structure in the coalition will end public disagreements.

"It would be unfortunate if we were to return to the 2003 scenario. In 2003, some people felt that they were short-changed and only realised it when they were in Government. This time, people felt short-changed but they stayed out and negotiated. They went into Government with their eyes wide open. The discussions were made public, not like the MoU that was signed secretly," the Chief Whip said.

Thuo said he personally felt the law should apply, but added that there was need for compromise.