Monday, September 15, 2008



September 15, 2008
The Standard
By Dominic Odipo

Look around the political landscape and you will notice there has been one particularly quiet but very real change that appears to have taken place in the last few years.

This change appears to have started shortly after the 2005 national referendum on a new constitution and to have accelerated after the violence and chaos that followed last year’s disputed presidential elections.

As you may already have guessed, it is the apparent transformation of the Minister for Energy Kiraitu Murungi and, along with it, public perception of the ministry he heads.

Consider just a few facts: In the last two months, the cost of electricity has gone through the roof. For thousands of domestic and industrial consumers, energy costs have all but doubled.

Yet nobody is pointing a finger at obvious targets like Kiraitu or the Ministry of Energy.

For most of this year, the price of petrol at the pump has been rising at near record rates. Today, premium petrol, diesel and kerosene are retailing at record three-digit prices, which keep rising whether the international price of Murban crude oil, the nation’s lifeblood, rises or falls. Yet, again, nobody is pointing a finger at Kiraitu or his ministry.

Incredibly, there seems to be some general understanding out there that both the minister and the ministry itself are innocent. The public is looking for scapegoats elsewhere.

How has this virtual political miracle been wrought?

The main reason, I believe, has been this seeming transformation of the minister’s political and public image. It is becoming harder and harder for anybody, the Press included, to throw any brickbats at him.


Whether by design or accident, the pre-referendum Kiraitu Murungi appears to have disappeared. The abrasive and confrontational man who publicly threatened to shake every corner of this country with ‘Yes’ campaign funds seems now to be extinct. In his place, the public see a sober, quiet and reflective minister who seems to be working for the interests of the country, not just those of his Meru brothers and sisters of his PNU party.

Again, whether by design or accident, Kiraitu was one of the first leaders from the Mount Kenya region to publicly declare that he was willing to work with Raila Odinga, the ODM leader, after the post-election chaos earlier this year.

If a real, durable bridge has since been built between PNU and ODM forces, there is no doubt the Minister for Energy is one of those who laid the first stones. For those who do not believe politicians, unlike leopards, can change their stripes while retaining their core principles, Kiraitu is a living example.

As a result of this subtle transmogrification, the Minister for Energy has acquired a lot of political goodwill across the nation, while losing hardly any in his home region.

Many of those who used to switch channels when he came on the TV screen, now no longer do so. The question now is what Murungi can do with this nationwide political goodwill, this priceless political capital, while the going remains good?

Here are just a few suggestions: To begin with, he can travel more across the country, particularly into Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, spreading not just the gospel of energy but, even more importantly, that of national reconciliation and brotherhood. He can be sure that he now has a ready and eager audience in those regions.

Second, he can now appeal, across the party political divide, for the mobilisation of public and private resources to facilitate the expansion and renewal of the country’s energy infrastructure.

There, too, he will be heard, like he never would before the referendum.

Third, he could invite all the major stakeholders in the energy sector (as I understand the Ministry is planning to do) to come together and chart the way forward for the sector as a whole. Ensconced in this new shroud of political goodwill, virtually everyone he invites will show up.

And, finally, the Minister can appear more and more on radio and television explaining the hard realities of both the political and the energy sector.

He could, for example, painstakingly explain to the people the subtle relationships between, say, the petrol pump price and such things as the Mau Forest, the Iraq War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the American presidential elections.

In a word, this is the time for Kiraitu to strike a decisive blow, not just for the energy sector, but for national reconciliation and goodwill as well.

As the old saying goes, it is always best to strike when the iron is hot.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.