Sunday, September 7, 2008



September 7, 2008
By Abiya Ochola
Sunday Standard

Prime Minister Raila Odinga came out fighting at the ODM retreat in Naivasha, castigating dissenting MPs calling for the formation of a Grand Opposition.

Setting the agenda for the party retreat, a tough-talking Raila said his party would not allow MPs to join non-party members to undermine the values and principles the party stood for.

"Do not try to split the party. You cannot join hands with members of other parties and still purport to be in ODM. We cannot have members who score in our own goal after we pass the ball to them," he said.

The PM argued that ODM had clear values that it used in its campaign and the party would not allow the values to be watered or distorted by unwarranted alliances.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga (left) is received by ODM chairman Henry Kosgey at the Simba Lodge in Naivasha for the party retreat on Sunday. On the right is the party’s Director of Communication, Mr Ahmed Hashi. PHOTO: COLLINS KWEYU

"There are things which are unique to the party and cannot be shared. These are held by all MPs both in Government and the Backbench. We must have our MPs in the backbench and not as an opposition," he said.

Raila tore into the proponents of the Grand Opposition, saying they were yet to convince him or anybody in the world that a grand opposition idea has been adopted and works effectively without splitting parties.

But the MPs, led by Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, skipped the speech, as did all but one MP from South Rift.

And for the first time since the General Election, the Pentagon comprising ODM top five leaders did not sit together. Water Minister Charity Ngilu was absent.

"I want to be convinced why our colleagues should want to check us using an official outfit together with those who we fought against," he said.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi set the tempo when he told the 200 delegates at the National Governing Council meeting that in as much as there was freedom of expression in the party, ODM would not allow hurling of insults by MPs towards party leadership and the PM.

"We have freedom of speech, but we cannot allow people to be carried away so that they hurl insults at the PM and the party hierarchy. This was witnessed in Kitale when an MP joined our opponents to attack the PM," he said.

Desist from populist politics

Raila said there was no room for the Grand Opposition because the Grand Coalition Government was a result of special conditions that did not warrant an opposition.

"In a Grand Coalition, partners check each other and that is why a minister will also act as a whistleblower," he said.

The PM recalled that the rain started beating ODM after the formation of the Cabinet when some members were left out of Government.

"We were very united when we were negotiating with PNU to form a government … If my crime is that I left you out, then so be it," he said.

He said ODM was a national movement and urged leaders to shun regional and ethnic politics that would undermine the popularity of the party.

On the controversial relocation of squatters at Mau Forest that has led to open rebellion by MPs in the South Rift, Raila said the party leadership should desist from populist politics.

"All those affected are our supporters and it is high time we led from the front instead of failing to give direction just because we fear antagonising the electorate," he said, further denying allegations that he had been set up by President Kibaki to antagonise the South Rift voting block.

Six of the nine MPs from the region had not been at the retreat by the time this writer left Naivasha.

Two constituencies, Sotik and Bomet, are vacant following the death of Lorna Laboso and Kipkalya Kones in a plane accident.

Raila added: "I am not stupid to beat my own people. What I am doing is for the common good. Should we allow Mau settlement and save our votes or resettle the people elsewhere and have water in our rivers?"

Even as Raila spoke, proponents of the Grand Opposition were absent. The MPs arrived five minutes after Raila had given his keynote address. Those who arrived with Namwamba were Mr Isaac Ruto, Mr Moses Lessonet and Mr Boaz Kaino.

Another dissenting voice, Mr Franklin Bett, arrived one hour after the meeting had started. But Assistant minister Charles Keter was at the retreat from the beginning.

Curiously, the Pentagon members did not sit at the high table as expected. Only Raila, Mr Mudavadi, Secretary-General Anyang’ Nyong’o, Chairman Henry Kosgey, Party Whip Jakoyo Midiwo and secretariat chief Janet Ongera sat at the high table together.

Party agenda

Other Pentagon members, Cabinet Ministers William Ruto, Najib Balala and Joseph Nyaga sat with the delegates. By the time we went to press, Ngilu had not responded to an enquiry from The Standard seeking to know why she was not at the meeting.

This is the first Governing Council meeting after the formation of the Grand Coalition and comes at a time when the party is at a crossroads, with internal dissent threatening to tear it apart.

Other items on the agenda at the retreat are the amendment of the party constitution to comply with the Political Parties Act, National Accord and the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Act.

The NGC will also recommend the restructuring and reorganisation of the party. Insiders say the Pentagon could be scrapped.

The retreat will also set the date for branch elections.

The meeting ends Monday. Recommendations will be adopted and announced to rejuvenate the party ahead of the tricky by-elections in Sotik and Bomet.

"We did not cross River Jordan as expected, but we agreed to form a coalition Government because we knew there was still another day. We formed the coalition because our people were suffering and we needed to keep Kenya going. We should leave here more united and focused," Raila said.