Saturday, December 6, 2008



By Beauttah Omanga

The battle for supremacy in Party of National Unity (PNU) has pitted Internal Security Minister George Saitoti against Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa as regional politics takes centre stage.

Wekesa, the interim coordinating council chairman, accuses Saitoti of scheming to sideline "genuine party leaders with politicians eyeing the presidency".

"We have built this party to what it is today. It will be unfair for serial fence sitters to rise to senior leadership positions. We will do whatever it takes to ensure the party’s leadership remains in the hands of those committed to building it," said the minister.

Wekesa also accused Saitoti of using ethnicity as a trump card.

"For the sake of the party’s future, its leadership should not go to leaders from central Kenya region," warned Wekesa.

The minister takes his fight to Saitoti’s stronghold in Nyeri today, where he will preside over a fundraiser for the Othaya Catholic Church.

He said leaders who were opposed to him "merely want to rise to the presidency instead of first marketing the party and making it a formidable force to face parties like Narc-Kenya and ODM."

Wekesa was incensed by Saitoti’s declaration to gun for the chairmanship.

Speaking at a rally in Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi’s constituency last weekend, Saitoti urged party members to support him and Kiraitu for the top seats.

Three days later, PNU leaders from all the Meru districts issued a statement endorsing the Saitoti-Kiraitu axis. Despite being a skilful negotiator credited with building coalitions, Wekesa has often been forced to relinquish top seats to others.

But yesterday, Wekesa insisted he would go the whole hog to secure the seat. "I have to be given credit for the work I have been doing. I should not be used to form parties but denied a chance to lead them. I’m one of the few members of PNU whose name has not been soiled by scandal," the minister said. Wekesa believes he would prevail over Saitoti on December 19 when the party goes to polls.

He argues that for Kenya to move forward, those with presidential ambitions should not head parties.

"We should have leaders capable of building parties at the grassroots. Those eyeing the presidency will be preoccupied with campaigns at the expense of strengthening the parties," he says.

Wekesa says he will free the party from the ethnic enclave and make it more appealing to parts of the country where it performed poorly in the last General Election.

"We must have the desire and mettle to rise above ethnicity. I’m the only leader in PNU who has never been associated with financial scandals. The country is looking for leaders with integrity and my past speaks for itself," he said.

Unity of purpose

Initially, the two PNU leaders were united in criticising Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua for opposing their plans to transform PNU into a stronger entity.

Some indirectly asked the Gichugu MP and her Narc-Kenya supporters to keep off and let the party determine its destiny.

Wekesa’s fears are based on the history of coalitions, where he played a pivotal role in the formation of Narc, which went on to win the 2002 General Election but he was not appointed to the first Kibaki Cabinet. He has already abandoned his ‘home’ party, Ford Kenya, where Nominated MP Musikari Kombo is facing internal revolt spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula.

But to ensure the party remains intact, the Saitoti-Kiraitu axis is goading Wekesa and other leaders into a power-sharing deal, with Saitoti at the top.

A source from the Saitoti camp says the creation of two more slots of vice-chairman is geared at accommodating Wekesa and other regional representatives.

If Wekesa agrees, he will be appointed party vice chairman representing western. Former MP Jimmy Angwenyi will be vice-chairman for Nyanza, Transport Minister Ali Mwakwere for Coast and Public Health Minister Beth Mugo for Nairobi.

North Eastern will be given the treasury and Central will provide an organising secretary. Kiraitu will be secretary-general, deputised by Nominated MP George Nyamweya, the party spokesman.

Angwenyi said he has heard of the proposal but declined to confirm whether he was set for the position.

"When elections are about to be held such proposals easily come by. I am busy coordinating the PNU elections in Nyanza but I will decide as we approach December 19," said the former Kitutu-Chache MP.

Wekesa scoffed at the proposal. "I will not step down for anybody. I have built coalitions whose beneficiaries have been fence sitters at difficult political times but I cannot continue like that forever. I can only be second to President Kibaki in the party’s hierarchy," said the Kwanza MP.

"The party has a constitution which must be adhered to. It is clear that parties go to elections and have leaders representing all parts of the country to give them a national outlook. Any moves to sideline leaders from any section of this country will not be acceptable," said Nyamweya.