Friday, February 20, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
February 19, 2009

The idea of live coverage of the National Assembly deliberations has brought Kenyans into intimate contact with the performance of their MPs. This was more evident on the day Boni Khalwale moved a motion of no confidence on William Ruto, the minister for Agriculture.

For more than a week, Kenyans had been prepared psychologically to expect one of the most acrimonious debates in the life of this parliament. However, what they finally got was a shock even to the most apolitical among us. It was an embarrassment to this nation to say the least.

First, let me discuss the performance of the two principal contestants during the debate; William Ruto and Boni Khalwale.

Khalwale diligently prepared himself for the debate with a good number of facts to justify his accusations. However, he was denied the full potential to articulate his arguments by a seemingly clueless Deputy Speaker who, in his guidance of the debates in the august house, has formed the habit of blowing with the wind to the extent that if any member of the house raises a point of order no matter how frivolous; he would tend to bend backwards to accommodate such distractions. For this reason, Khalwale found himself in unfamiliar territory where he was besieged not just by well choreographed hecklers but by an equally unhelpful chair.

Other than problems on the floor; Khalwale had inadvertently punctured his case at a weekend rally in Ikolomani when he called upon the MPs from the House of Omulembe to vote en masse for his motion of censor. This blunder sent alarming bells among members of Parliament from all regions. Most MPs, especially Ruto’s supporters latched on the statement that this was not about fighting graft but an ethnic political war against Ruto and his community.

The other fatal mistake Khalwale made was to be in breach of the standing orders of the House by bringing as evidence photocopies of newspaper cuttings knowing full well that such documents were inadmissible in the House as evidence for whatever reason. In doing this; he gave his opponents a rope with which to hang him.

There is no denying that William Ruto left nothing to chance in the battle of his life. Unlike Khalwale, Ruto was fully aware that this was a political battle more than anything else. For this reason, he deployed most of his resources in lobbying and mobilizing support among MPs across the political divide. Strategically, he enlisted the support of ministers on the PNU side in the knowledge that some of them like Kiraitu Murungi and Uhuru Kenyatta were facing similar circumstances due either to oil scandal or the post election violence that were still hanging around their necks.

Other than reaching out to the PNU colleagues to rally their MPs to his side; the last weekend before the debate, Ruto made several appearances in the company of his party leader and other senior cabinet ministers on the ODM side. It was important that he be seen at the Jaramogi memorial in the company of Raila, Orengo and notable Luo politicians. Watching Ruto talk confidently at the Jaramogi memorial, one was left convinced that Ruto was a good fighter who had adequately prepared to go down fighting. And for his efforts, he got a near standing ovation among the crowd; a development that made his critics among Luo MPs beat a hasty retreat.

By Sunday evening; the contrast between Ruto and Khalwale was telling. Whereas the latter was appealing for his ethnic support in Parliament, Ruto was rallying his support across the regions and political divide.

Having said that; I must confess that a good debate was ruined by pettiness and childishness from some members of the august house. At one time, one could be excused for thinking that we were watching a primary school children’s debate; considering the number of frivolous points of order that were planted and choreographed to distract Khalwale’s presentation simply for their nuisance’s value.
It was obvious that the anti- Khalwale group had been detailed to ensure his argument was disrupted as much as possible; and with the help of a weak chair, these hecklers had their day in the house.

The truth is; Khalwale had a case, a very strong case that brought a serious debate on the character and integrity of our rulers on the floor. We expected the chair to protect both Khalwale and Ruto so that they could be judged on the basis of their factual arguments rather than on the numbers they had recruited on their sides before the debate. This much the chair denied us, leaving a good debate to degenerate into personal grandstanding and gallery theatrics between those who supported and those that opposed the motion.

Conspicuously silent were the members of the proposed grand opposition who, for unknown reasons, chose to remain mute, leaving Khalwale to be slaughtered in the house. Ironically, a number of them voted against one of their own or abstained altogether.

Watching Martha Karua stand up and put up a spirited fight in support of the motion, and realizing that when the vote was taken, her side could only manage a paltry 22 votes against 119 that supported Ruto, does Martha Karua still have a future in the Kibaki administration?

Whatever the case, losing the debate in Parliament did not mean that William Ruto had no case to answer. Judging from the presentations made by Dr. Khalwale, Dr. Simiyu, Justice Minister Martha Karua and Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri, it was evident that Ruto had breached several sections of the Public Officers Act among many other laws of the land. But as they say; truth has no validity in law; fact has.