Sunday, August 16, 2009



Saturday, August 15 2009

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga will take his campaign to win support of people in the Rift Valley to Kericho this Sunday with a public rally at which his escalating feud with Agriculture minister William Ruto is likely to be a major talking point.

The Prime Minister is expected to address residents of the province at several stops in Konoin constituency.

The visit comes a week after a similar rally in Chepalungu drew a furious response from the sitting MP, Mr Isaac Ruto, who was not invited to the meeting.

The Sunday Nation established that the PM plans to further intensify his efforts to reach out directly to Rift Valley voters in the coming days. He has scheduled a visit to Baringo in a week and will host Kalenjin elders at his Karen home in a fortnight.

Opposing sides

Mr Odinga and Isaac Ruto have fallen out in recent weeks because of their opposing views on the issue of the eviction of squatters from the Mau forest.

Mr Odinga has won wide praise for insisting that squatters should be evicted from the Mau, one of Kenya’s most important water towers.

Mr Ruto and a number of Rift Valley MPs have publicly opposed this stance with some MPs stating that there will be no evictions and saying the degree of environmental degradation resulting from the destruction of the Mau has been exaggerated.

In an interview, Mr Odinga said the current dispute with some Rift Valley MPs had nothing to do with the Mau issue and everything to do with power politics.

Mr Odinga said a number of MPs were unhappy at not having been given Cabinet positions.

“Some MPs like Isaac Ruto never forgave me for failing to get into the Cabinet. To cover this personal disappointment, they began a campaign saying that the region was short-changed in Cabinet appointments,” he said.

The PM said he had only six Cabinet slots for Rift Valley, five of which went to the Kalenjin and only one to the Maasai.“The Maasai have not complained, neither have the Turkana,” he said.

The PM also said he assigned the “most powerful” slots given to the ODM side of the coalition to MPs from the Rift Valley. Ministers from the region hold dockets of Agriculture, Roads, Higher Education, Industrialisation, Youth and Sports.

“I also got support from Luhyaland, but they got only three Cabinet slots while Coast, where I received an overwhelming number of votes, had to make do with two. Luo Nyanza got ministries that are essentially departments.

While other regions understood and agreed to move on, Rift Valley MPs have even disparaged me for agreeing to negotiate with (President) Kibaki at a time the entire world believed power- sharing was the only way out for Kenya and every extra day of the standoff meant more lives lost,” Mr Odinga said.

In the interview, Mr Odinga said his contention that the Mau issue was only an excuse for Rift Valley MPs to fight him was borne out by the number of times MPs from the region had sought to pick a fight with him.

He said the second issue they brought up after the Cabinet controversy was the question of youths from the region who MPs said were in custody.

He said he took the issue to the Cabinet and demanded that Attorney-General Amos Wako table a list of those held by the police.

“When the trial process began, all the youths were released for lack of evidence,” he said. Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto disputed this characterisation, saying that the appointments to the Cabinet were more than a year old and that they were not at the heart of the dispute. “We are only asking the PM to stop being the prince of impunity and dialogue with Rift Valley MPs, rather than talk at us,” he said.

These disputes apart, no issue has strained the relationship between Rift Valley MPs and Mr Odinga more than the question of the formation of a special tribunal to try the alleged masterminds and financiers of post-election violence.

The PM has been a proponent of the creation of a special tribunal.

William Ruto initially supported the International Criminal Court (ICC) before dropping that position and urging the nation to go for a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

In the interview, Mr Odinga said he did not come up with the idea of handing over suspects to The Hague or formation of a special tribunal.

“Those were recommendations of the Waki Report. It gave only two options: The Hague or local tribunal. The option of doing nothing was not there. I convened a party parliamentary group meeting where MPs agreed to support a local tribunal, only for Rift Valley MPs to say I had betrayed them.”

Mr Odinga said he believed that saving the Mau was his “biggest national duty”. He said there were no substantial differences between him and Rift Valley MPs because he stands for “orderly relocation” and payment of compensation to genuine squatters.

MPs allied to Mr Ruto to whom we spoke dismissed the PM’s stand and said his efforts to reach out directly to the masses in Rift Valley would fail.

Eldama Ravine MP Moses Lessonet said Mr Odinga was displaying “bad manners” by going to constituencies in Rift Valley without consulting MPs.

“Let us wait and see what will come out of it in the next two to three months. He should not try and undermine Ruto whether Ruto is in ODM or not. He should instead engage William (Ruto) and respect him,” Mr Lessonet said.

Rongai MP Luka Kigen said demonstrations in Siongiroi in Chepalungu after Mr Odinga left indicated the residents were not happy with Mr Odinga’s statements.

“Mr Odinga’s actions amount to contempt of people who elected the leaders he is trying to sideline,” Mr Kigen said.

But he said he talked to people who were in Mr Odinga’s entourage who told him he never talked about dealing directly with the electorate.

“He is like a big brother to us and should know the people he is trying to undermine can also become prime ministers,” he said. Kipkelion MP Langat Magerer took a different position and asked the media to stop branding the views of individual MPs as representing all MPs from the Rift Valley.

“We are not allied to anybody apart from two MPs who have said they are loudspeakers,” Mr Magerer said.

He said Mr Odinga is ODM’s party leader and Mr Ruto (deputy) and that when the Agriculture minister spoke, it did not mean all the Rift Valley MPs had spoken.

The strained relationship between Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto has divided ODM. The two leaders are considered the most influential figures in the party that holds the largest number of seats in Parliament.

It has also opened the door for other parties to make inroads in Rift Valley, according to Kanu secretary general Nick Salat.

“My analysis is that the dispute between Ruto and Raila stems from something personal. It has nothing to do with Mau.

As Kanu, our advice to Rift Valley residents is that these developments should serve as a warning that the people must be careful while making political choices in future,” he said.

The former MP declined to comment on the likelihood of the success of the PM’s bid to reach out to Rift Valley voters.

But according to one of the organisers of the effort, Councillor Nicholas Tum, voters in the area were enthusiastic about the effort.

“Some Rift Valley MPs opposed Raila right from the beginning when ODM was formed. But Raila successfully reached out to wananchi in Rift Valley before the ODM presidential nominations and the Rift Valley MPs were forced to support Raila. It will be no different,” said the councillor from Chepalungu.