Sunday, September 14, 2008



September 14, 2008
By Oscar Obonyo
Sunday Standard

With Prime Minister Raila Odinga as their pet subject and constant target for political attack, the "real" objective for grand opposition coalition is increasingly getting lost.

And for lack of a coordinated approach, the prime crusaders are fronting conflicting and divergent ideals. Even then, the consistent aspect of their harangue remains a sustained assault at the ODM leadership.

"Raila and (President) Kibaki must exit from power by 2012" has, for instance, become the evensong of Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale.

He has consistently hummed the chorus at every public forum, most notably during recent homecoming parties for Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo and Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo.

During the fifth anniversary of the death of Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa in Kitale last month, Khalwale, who is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told the PM to his face that he should prepare to exit the political arena by 2012.

And as if taking cue from Khalwale, his Public Investment Committee (PIC) counterpart, Mr Linturi Mithika, intends to move a Motion seeking to bar politicians aged beyond 65 from seeking presidency.

It is an open secret that the move could be targeting Raila, who will be 67 in 2012. Despite Mithika’s denial, most political pundits are convinced otherwise.

Jirongo’s message has equally been consistent — that Raila and Kibaki are not only sharing power, but also "everything" between them. Two prominent families should not dominate Kenya’s political leadership, he maintains.

It is partly because of the apparent choreographed criticism aimed at the Prime Minister that explains his opposition to the grand opposition outfit. Indeed, some of the ODM allied MPs are beginning to see things in the same light.

"From the look of things, the PM seems uncomfortable with the grand opposition because he considers it a crusade aimed at whittling his political influence. I believe he also fears that it may turn into a political party opposed to him," observes Konoin MP Julius Kones.

Individual interests

Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, who drafted the Parliamentary Opposition Bill 2008, concedes that individual political interests may have lately taken centre stage. These, he fears, have created confusion among many and painted the group in bad light.

"I want to caution colleagues that they shall not use the grand opposition outfit to engage in personal vendetta against the PM or any other politician for that matter," he charges.

It is because of the said contradictions that Namwamba argues his case for the need to put in place a structured outfit that will, in the end, be answerable to Kenyans.

Even as the push for the opposition coalition gains momentum, it is emerging that there is a flurry of underhand activities with influential and well-connected politicians lending a hand to the Namwamba team.

With the so-called two principals of the Coalition Government, President Kibaki and Raila, opposed to the move, the crucial question remains — who authorised the publishing of the Bill with the Government printer? Just who is working behind the backs of the two leaders?

Initial reports hinted to The Standard On Sunday that the nod to publish the Bill was given by Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende and the AG Amos Wako, following high-level lobbying by Western Kenya MPs who are spearheading the grand opposition crusade.

But another MP at the core of the grand opposition caucus confided in The Standard On Sunday that the nod was actually given by Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim, as Marende was out of the country at the moment.

"Initially we were prepared to raise Sh460,000 to privately meet the publishing costs of the Bill, but the AG took over that task by committing the Government," says the MP.

The legislator, however, points out that the AG acted out of good faith and not coercion: "He changed his mind only after reading through the Bill and realising that it was good for the country."

However, the proponents of the opposition coalition confess that there are powerful politicians behind their operations.

Kalonzo and Karua

Although they do not mention names, it is instructive that Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua, who were initially opposed to the move, have since gone quiet on the subject.

Karua recently stated that the Bill would be brought to Parliament for debate since "we are not afraid of opposition". Kalonzo and Karua hold critical roles in Parliament, with the Gichugu MP deputising the VP as Leader of Government Business.

Popularity contest among prospective presidential candidates in 2012 is already on as is the scramble for support in the Tenth Parliament. This perhaps explains why the top guns may be warming up to the proponents of the grand opposition.

"We have done our homework and for all we know, virtually every politician except two, supports our stand. Those who are still wavering are close allies of Raila and Kibaki, afraid of rebellion," claims Jirongo.

When the ODM brigade retreated to Naivasha last week, debate on the grand opposition coalition did not come up for discussion.

According to Namwamba, it was a deliberate move since "debate on the same is beyond ODM as it is a national agenda that transcends the political divide."

In the meantime, ODM legislators are unknowingly playing into the net of opponents. While they are pushing for their perceived rightful share in the coalition Government, they are increasingly undermining their numerical strength and unity — the critical ingredients that could boost their political bargain. Party leader, Raila, terms this development as scoring own goals.

But Kones thinks otherwise. Instead, the Konoin MP advises Raila to embrace and if possible own the emerging watchdog outfit.

"ODM politicians do not want to be told what to do or where to go. This is the freshness in the thinking of the young crop of MPs. The harder the PM fights this thing the bigger it grows," he says.

Meanwhile, Namwamba insists that it is Raila who is sleeping with the enemy — Kibaki.

"Today, alongside Kalonzo, they are entangled in a triangular of power. Isn’t this the very Kibaki that ODM so viciously fought and beat at the elections only for him to rob us of victory?" he poses.

And for his boldness and eloquence, the first term MP is accused of being (mis)used by the "enemy" to perform dirty political jobs.

"For his gift of the garb, Namwamba is a critical asset that any serious politician would want on his side.

This is just how our dirty politics work and I think ODM or Raila, for that matter, have let that opportunity go," suggests a PNU allied politician who did not wish to be named.

Gun for hire

But Namwamba is enraged at the "gun-for-hire" innuendo. Denying that he works for any politician, the MP challenges his accusers to come out in the open with tangible evidence.

"This is absolute nonsense! It is cheap as somebody is only out to besmirch my character and standing in the society with the hope that this will puncture my quest for an opposition caucus," he told The Standard On Sunday.

As things stand now, there is no denying that the grand opposition debate gravitates solely around the PM, who also happens to be the uniting factor behind the forces opposed to his stand and political style.

The success of the grand opposition crusaders will depend on how fast and smart they disentangle the individual from the issue.