Monday, December 7, 2009



By Patrick Beja and Willis Oketch
Mombasa, Kenya

Prime Minister Raila Odinga led the ODM top brass in a well-attended public rally that played out like a show of force in the contest with his party deputy William Ruto.

Coming only a day after Ruto led a group of politicians to a rally in Kapenguria where he berated the PM, saying he regrets leading Rift Valley to ODM, the Mombasa rally was billed to be the make-or-break venue for the Ruto-Raila political contest.

The crowd at the Tononoka Grounds, the venue of Sunday’s rally was reminiscent of the campaign period when ODM attracted huge numbers to its public meetings.

Although several speakers called on Raila to fire Ruto and Balala, the Prime Minister struck a conciliatory tone, in a manner to suggest he only wanted to show his detractors he was in control of the party.

Raila downplayed calls from Coast leaders to sack the two ministers who have openly been criticising him. He instead said ODM was a mass movement, which needed the support of everybody in the party including the rebel leaders.

"Since ODM has not achieved its goal of bringing change, we should be ready to accommodate leaders who have slipped so as to maintain the strength of the party," Raila said.

Charged crowd

The chanting crowd that braved the scorching heat had not been witnessed in Mombasa in recent times and brought memories of the 2007 general election rallies.

Coast residents started streaming in from as early as 8 am before Raila arrived at 1.15 pm.

The crowd kept on swelling even when the rally ended at about 5.30 pm and many supporters could be seen perched in trees and roofs with others waving Raila portraits.

Raila said ODM is gaining ground in Central and Eastern provinces. The rally came only a day after the party held its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Mombasa.

Ruto also sought to downplay the rift in ODM Sunday by acknowledging party members have differed on several issues.

"There is no problem in ODM. There are differences of opinion and that is a test for democracy in ODM," said Ruto who was speaking in Kakamega during a funds drive for a church.

His comments were quite different from the previous day when he berated Raila over his style of leadership, saying he regrets backing him for the presidency in 2007. He was accompanied by his Cabinet colleague Samuel Poghisio, assistant ministers Manyala Keya and Asman Kamama and Industrialisation PS John Lonyangapuo.

Balala was in Isiolo where Muslim leaders rallied to his defence. Balala, who was presiding over a funds drive for construction of a mosque said the organisers of the meeting in his constituency, did not have the courtesy to involve him (see separate story).

Raila told his party supporters at Tononoka grounds that leaders in Central Kenya were warming to the party. He said Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Tigania West MP Kilemi Mwiria were to attend the Tononoka meeting, save for a last-minute hitch on their travel plans.

"These leaders from Central Kenya have sent their apologies for failing to turn up for this rally," Raila said.

Earlier, Co-operative Development Minister Joseph Nyagah said many people were embracing ODM in his home turf.

"In 2007, I failed to win, but now many people are embracing ODM showing clear signs the party has penetrated Central," Nyagah said.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi said the ODM has grown after the 2007 General Election and was now unshakable.

Raila assured Ruto and Balala they would be given a chance to compete for the party’s presidential ticket in 2012. Water Minister Charity Ngilu prevailed upon ODM supporters to accept Ruto and Balala back as sacking them would weaken the party. Ngilu said ODM has a mission to liberate Kenyans and should not lose any of its members.

"We must not allow ourselves to be divided by those fighting ODM," she said.

Roads Minister Franklin Bett commended Raila for extending an olive branch to Ruto and Balala.

"We need sobriety and tolerance and Raila has displayed this quality," Bett said.

Most Coast leaders led by East African Community Minister Amason Kingi called on Raila to sack the two.

"In 2007, ODM was like a river which carried with it bad trash which must be weeded out now," said.

He said Balala did not consult the Coast region when he joined the alliance supporting the KKK (Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Kamba) alliance.

Why spare them?

The Coast leaders expressed disappointment with Raila’s decision to forgive the rebel ministers.

ODM chairman Henry Kosgey, Higher Education Minister Sally Kosgey and Bett admitted eviction of settlers in the Mau forest had been mishandled. However, they said the Government has began addressing the issue and it should not be used to break up ODM.

The three ministers from Rift Valley assured party supporters that ODM was intact in the region despite the rebels attacking the party leader.

"The rebels have a secret agenda and they are using the Mau evictions as a scapegoat," said Kosgey.

Nominated MP Musa Sirma insisted ODM in Rift Valley was still intact and there was no cause for alarm.

Raila said there was no guarantee that he would become the party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and urged those eyeing the top seat not to run away for fear of being blocked.

"We will conduct a free and fair presidential nomination at Kasarani and whoever becomes the party candidate will get my vote," Raila said.

He asked rebels not to break the party because of petty differences and fear of being denied a chance to run for the presidency.

On the Harmonised Draft Constitution, Raila insisted the Kadhi’s courts was not a contentious issue and urged Christians accept them.

The PM warned the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) against harassing religious leaders over the noise pollution rule.

On executive power, Raila urged Kenyans not to accept an imperial presidency, saying concentration of power witnessed in the current Constitution has encouraged dictatorship and corruption.