Sunday, July 26, 2009



Posted Saturday, July 25 2009

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have pledged to end their political differences brought about by the disputed 2007 presidential election results and adopt a common approach to running the affairs of the Kenyan coalition government.

In a symbolic gesture of their new-found unity, the PM on Saturday hosted the President to a private luncheon at his rural residence in Bondo. Nyanza Province. It is uncharacteristic of President Kibaki to attend luncheons in private residences unlike former president Moi who would easily visit a political friend’s home.

The enthusiasm at joint activities attended by the two leaders during their tour of Nyanza Province this weekend was a far cry from the scenes one year ago when Mr Odinga had difficulty introducing the grand coalition idea to a hostile crowd during his homecoming celebrations in the area.

On Saturday, the two addressed a series of rallies at Kombewa in Kisumu, Gem, Rarieda, Siaya, Bondo and Ugenya where they repeatedly said they were out to unite Kenyans and foster healing and reconciliation.

“What we are doing now is the start of a new beginning in the way we are going to run the affairs of the government and all we need is the support of Kenyans in order to implement government programmes in all parts of the country,” said President Kibaki.

The President reiterated that what Kenyans needed most was to see their standards of living uplifted and this could only be achieved in an atmosphere of peace and unity.

Mr Odinga asked Kenyans to shun tribalism and instead work in harmony and unity. At every venue they stopped to address the public, the leaders appealed to Kenyans to forget the differences over the disputed election results and instead work together for development.

“My appeal to all Kenyans is to put behind the differences caused by the disputed 2007 General Election and focus on building a new Kenya,” said Mr Odinga. Mr Odinga emphasised the need for PNU and ODM, the two parties in the coalition, to ensure they deliver services required by Kenyans.

Mr Odinga, however, said that his party, ODM, still remained focused on its quest to lead the country come 2012. “We should not be mistaken for what we are doing; we know where we are heading,” said Mr Odinga.

The public show of unity by the President and the PM comes amid mounting criticism over their perceived failure to offer leadership in the coalition regarding a number of issues.

Critics cite, among other things, the stalemate in the Cabinet over how to deal with suspects of the post-election violence and apparent indecisiveness over the Mau Complex saga.

The two principals have themselves had an uneasy working relationship since the formation of the coalition government more than a year ago. Analysts have in the past blamed the feuding between the two leaders for some of the country’s economic problems and bad image abroThe two started well with Mr Odinga avoiding criticising the President in public but things started changing as the coalition neared its first birth day.

The two differed on many issues, including appointments to senior government positions, the role of the head of public service, Mr Francis Muthaura, the management of the coalition affairs and reforms in the police and the judiciary.

They were also divided on the controversial law on communications and the Philip Alston Report on extrajudicial killings, among other things.

Things appeared to get worse in May when Mr Odinga launched direct attacks on the President, complaining of mistreatment and lack of respect. He also accused President Kibaki of always contradicting his (Mr Odinga’s) statements and positions on crucial national issues.

The PM was especially unhappy that while he called for removal of Chief Justice Evan Gicheru, the President affirmed confidence in him. The disagreements affected the running of government affairs, slowed development and portrayed the country in bad light among investors and the international community.

Some of President Kibaki’s and Mr Odinga’s political rivals also used the differences to gain political mileage at a time when the country was adversely affected by food and energy crises.

The fallout also impacted badly on healing and reconciliation efforts in the country with many Kenyans fearing the coalition might not last its five-year term.

The Cabinet failed to sit for more than a month due to the tussle between the PNU and ODM leaders. However, things started changing in June with the two leaders appearing together in public as a show of unity, vowing to work together and seeking to project that the coalition was doing well in public.

They further embarked on a joint strategy to help address Agenda IV of the National Accord. Following the feuds between the two top politicians, President Kibaki had skipped Luo Nyanza during his countrywide tours and Friday’s visit was the first to the area since the post-election violence.

It explains why the President’s three-day visit to Mr Odinga’s backyard in Nyanza, which started on Friday, has attracted more than a passing interest as would another routine tour of development projects.

On Saturday, President Kibaki said that the Kisumu airport will have its runway extended to 3.3 km to bring it to international standards. The President made the directive following a request by the Kisumu Town West legislator Olago Aluoch.

The Prime Minister challenged the people from western Kenya to prepare to benefit from the expanded facility by investing in horticulture, fishing and cotton sectors.President Kibaki urged private sector players to seize the opportunity brought about by the airport upgrade to start fish processing plants and high-value farming.

The President said the government was also set to modernise and expand water and sewerage systems in Kisumu as part of plans to make it the economic and industrial hub in the East African region.

The Kisumu bypass project funded by the World Bank under the Northern Corridor improvement project, he said, will create an access road to the airport facility.

The President said the government will also put measures in place to ensure people in Nyanza benefit from the Lake Victoria resource. “The government will facilitate the installation of electricity along fish landing sites that will be furnished with cooling facilities,” he said.

Transport minister Ali Mwakwere said that the Kisumu airport expansion is expected to lower flight costs in the region as it will attract more airline operators.

Mr Mwakwere said the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport had been inspected by the International Civil Aviation Authority and the American regulatory authority and cleared for direct flights from the United States.

Reports by Lucas Barasa, Abiud Ochieng’, Patrick Mayoyo and James Minudi