Power politics and betrayal two sides of the same coin

KENYA COULD FINALLY BE on the verge of the fundamental constitutional change it has avoided for the last 15 years.

Talk about the creation of an executive prime minister’s office, an issue which almost single-handedly led to the collapse of the Bomas constitutional project more than two years ago, is being touted by its proponents as the be-all and end-all in the ongoing power-sharing talks between PNU and the opposition.

For the first time in generations, Kenyans are likely to witness two centres of executive power operating simultaneously. However, given the contempt with which the Government side is treating the proposal, it may take a while before the dream comes true.

The hardening of positions by both sides – obviously due to the high stakes in the event the deal is sealed – promises a longer and more torturous path to a compromise.

Suffice it to note that both the PNU and ODM negotiating teams have so far succeeded in making a complicated job nearly impossible. From outside looking inside, it is more about egos and sibling rivalries. Each side is too careful not to be seen to have been the first one to blink.

Besides, one team has been in power for two months now, thanks to an election outcome the other side claims was fixed. On the other hand, the Government side is reluctant to bow to pressure from an opposition it accuses of instigating killings, looting and burning of property, plus mass displacement of perceived PNU supporters.

In other words, the holier-than-thou attitude pervades both sides. And that precisely informs the near-absurd proposals churned out by both camps.

PNU’s idea of power-sharing, for instance, is for ODM to take up a number of Cabinet appointments at the pleasure of President Kibaki, whose tenure is not to be interrupted until 2012. In turn, ODM demands that any power deal arrived at should exclude ODM-K, whose principal, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, is Vice-President!

Talking about ODM-K and Mr Musyoka, it is amazing how critics believe that by dint of accepting to deputise Mr Kibaki, the party and its chief are traitors; that they have let down the country at its hour of need.

Since politics is about taking sides and defending them, Mr Musyoka and ODM-K have elected to side with, and defend the Kibaki camp. By that very act, they are on the opposite side of their former soul-mates, ODM, and that, as far as the latter is concerned, is betrayal.

Since the mid-Nineties, Kenya has witnessed shifting political marriages, including some between very strange bedfellows.

In 1997, at the height of the clamour for a new constitution, opposition parties jumped into a deal with the then disgraced ruling party, Kanu, through the infamous Inter-Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG). The reform agenda was watered down, nay, sacrificed at the altar of very personal political agendas.

BY THEN, OPPOSITION LUMINARIES had grown suspicious that some civil society leading lights had their eyes fixed at State power.

The following year, the country woke up to yet another surprise. Then Mr Raila Odinga struck a working relationship with Kanu in what came to be popularly known as co-operation. By late 2001, co-operation had mutated into merger, with Raila and his lieutenants not only serving in the Moi government as ministers, but with Mr Odinga as the Kanu secretary-general.

That was betrayal depending on which side of the political divide one was. To the then opposition and civil society, it was an earthquake. Raila was a dependable General in the march to a new order. We felt we had been robbed of a central pillar in the struggle; we were bitter.

But shorn of emotions and idealism, it was easy to see that being a practical politician, Raila had decided to undertake a paradigm shift. Unknown to the reform family, he had discovered what to him appeared to be a shorter route to State power.

Looking back, there is a way in which Raila’s move was a blessing in disguise to the nation. In less than a year, he had torn Kenya’s Grand Old Party down the middle and moved on with one half as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

On the eve of the 2002 general elections, Raila is said to have cut a pre-poll power deal with Mr Simeon Nyachae’s Ford People before declaring “Kibaki Tosha” at Uhuru Park in October of the same year.

Did Raila betray Moi and Nyachae in a row? Again it depended on whether one was a Kanu or Ford-People sympathiser. Otherwise, it is the political machine born out of the “Kibaki Tosha” cry that ended Kanu’s 40-year dictatorial rule.

What the ODM leader might have underestimated then, and even now, is Mr Musyoka’s resolve to also lead the nation. In other words, here are two gentlemen whose determination to reside at the country’s most prestigious address is at par, and with mutual contempt to match. They are most likely going to meet again at the ballot box in 2012, or any other time elections are called.

While at it, it would be dangerously impolitic for PNU to dump ODM Kenya to appease ODM. There is nothing to gain out of it, and everything to lose. This is because with the current highly poisoned political atmosphere, any coalition between ODM and PNU before the country undergoes a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation process (to rid Kenya of political and economic criminals) as well as comprehensive constitutional review, is bound to be very short-lived. PNU needs every ally on its side.

Jackson Mwalulu

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