Sunday, September 21, 2008



Sunday Standard
Nairobi, Kenya
By Oscar Obonyo

There is growing anxiety and pressure in ODM. Reason? Agriculture Minister and key party political player, William Ruto – is keeping everyone guessing.

Over the last two weeks, the Eldoret North MP has dominated discussion in the party, with MPs separately inviting him to "take up" position as deputy party leader and secretary-general.

And last week, after staying mum for long, he opened up to make a declaration that has further deepened uneasiness in the party. He said he is not interested in being the party’s secretary-general.

Matungu MP David Were says, "This is politics. I think mheshimiwa Ruto has released the proverbial balloon in the air and is observing the direction it takes."

But this might not necessarily be the case. For while the minister has not uttered a word in reference to the debate on the deputy party leader’s slot. He has categorically turned down the invitation, mostly by MPs from Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s backyard, of becoming secretary-general.

Ruto said he once served as Kanu secretary-general and was no longer interested in such a portfolio.

"I thank those who have proposed me for the position. But I do not have interest in it."

Ruto and Mudavadi have previously been locked in a quiet power-struggle. Indeed if the Eldoret North MP backs down in favour of his Sabatia colleague, then it will not be the first time he is doing so. When the slot of deputy Prime Minister, among others, was created following a post-election pact between President Kibaki’s PNU and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM, Ruto similarly "gave it up" for Mudavadi.

Mudavadi allies

And while Mudavadi’s allies dismissed it as a tactical retreat by Ruto aimed at raising political stakes in the party, there is no denying that it has led credence to the belief by some within the ODM fraternity that Ruto actually surrendered the post to Mudavadi.

"Indeed Ruto gave up the seat and by so doing let down a number of people in the Rift Valley. This time around we are insisting that he claims what is rightfully his," says Cherangany MP, Joshua Kutuny.

The MP’s argument is that the expansive province accorded the party candidate the largest share of the presidential vote.

But former ODM campaign communications director Kibisu Kabatesi claims such a move would go against the so-called Kasarani principle.

"According to this widely understood and applied rule, the winner of last year’s ODM nomination became the party’s presidential flag bearer. The one who emerged second was the running mate. The same principle applied during the positioning of the premiership slots," observes Kabatesi. He maintains that the same principle should be followed to fill the newly created posts of party leader and his deputy.

Nonetheless, Were believes things are not yet out of hand: "Ruto is yet to openly make demands on party positions. If he were the one talking, then there would be reason for concern."

But whichever way the argument goes, Were and Kutuny are at least contented the battle is raging from within. Indeed ODM insiders agree it is a pointer to party loyalty for Ruto and Mudavadi to "even stage a political coup from within than outside".

It is this kind of argument that has increasingly persuaded some party die-hards, that an extra slot be created to accommodate Ruto and Mudavadi next to the PM.

Although at a formative stage, The Standard On Sunday has reliably established that a group of officials –non-politicians – are pushing for the creation of a third slot to accommodate the three political party bigwigs.

Among the suggested slots are party leader and two deputies or party leader, first deputy and second deputy party leader.

Short-term solutions

But party Vice-Chairman Mugambi Imanyara confesses ignorance of such a move. Besides he is uncomfortable with such an arrangement arguing the notion of creating positions for short-term purposes is misplaced.

The party, he says, requires firm and permanent structures as opposed to weak and short-term arrangements that are set up merely for political expediency.

Noting that the officially proposed positions are yet to be established, Imanyara explains that the party’s National Governing Council in Naivasha approved the slots but they are yet to be ratified and adopted by the party’s highest organ – the National Delegates Convention.

"It is therefore premature for members, particularly legislators, to jostle for positions that are yet to be ratified. In any case, what is the guarantee that our national delegates will approve the proposals?" he poses.

According to the proposals, the party’s presidential flag bearer becomes the party leader. Delegates at the national convention nominate an individual to this position, following which he or she nominates the deputy party leader.

"Our party is growing stronger by day. This thing about friction between Mudavadi and Ruto is non-existent. I think it is the public that is excited over the planned ODM elections, he says.

In the meantime, Medical Services Minister Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and Tourism minister Najib Balala have move in to try and defuse the "presumed" tension between Ruto and Mudavadi camps.

Nyong’o, who is party Secretary-General, declared last week that any member was qualified to take the position of deputy party leader and not only Agriculture Minister William Ruto or Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.

"The position is open to anyone, including you," Nyong’o told journalists after opening a workshop on governance in the health sector at Strathmore University.

Irreparable Rift

This position is already getting currency in some quarters, particularly among MPs, who fear that the appointment of either of the two ministers to the deputy party leader’s slot may create irreparable rifts. They want a neutral person nominated to the position. Thus, Balala is calling on the ODM leadership to quickly address the matter, particularly the dissenting voices in the South Rift.

Konoin MP Julius Kones paints a picture of a party working together and determined to hold.

"We are all focused on the forthcoming by-election in Bomet and Sotik this week. The Prime Minister arrives today (Saturday) to lead us in the campaigns, while Ruto wraps it up on Monday," he told The Standard On Sunday.