America Secret Hand in New Cabinet List

Even as President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Amolo Odinga mull over the structure of the eagerly awaited grand coalition government, it is apparent that deciding on who to include in the cabinet is a Herculean task given the foreign interests factor that has taken center stage.

The cabinet, which we have learnt should have been in place by now, is providing a hard challenge as the two principals try to juggle, balance and accommodate strong foreign interests mainly from the United States and the EU on one hand and China and a few Asian countries commonly referred to as Asian Tigers on the other.

Right now, there are a lot of backstage dealings by mainly the US and its main challenger ton the world super power position – China – to have friendly politicians appointed to certain key ministries.

While in principle all ministries are equal, it is no longer debatable that some ministries are more equal than others as they carry more clout. Appointment to such ministries transforms the occupier into an instant senior politician. Among the important ministries include Finance, Internal Security, Roads and Public Works, Education, Health, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and Defence. Others are Energy, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Transport and Lands.

The two foreign giants have both had long trade and political relationships with Kenya. And with a radically changed political scenario, they are burning the midnight oil to ensure that they have friends in key ministries if they have to perpetuate or open new trade and business opportunities with East Africa’s biggest economy, which also has a big influence on the economics of other countries in the region.

It should be stated that from the onset that the US and Britain have since independence been Kenya’s key trade partners with equal political influence. However, this status was threatened soon after Kibaki assumed power and started warming up to the fast-rising Chinese, who in the meantime had managed to build an economy to rival US’s and suddenly shown a massive interest in Africa. China, with a population of over 1.4 billion people invested some US$ 9 billion in Africa last year alone.

More importantly, unlike the US and members of the EU who insisted on good governance, democracy and respect for human rights as a prerequisite for foreign assistance, China seemed quite happy to do business with anyone, democratic or human rights credentials not withstanding. The country insists on sovereignity of other nations.

As the Kibaki government came under increasing scrutiny particularly after the Anglo Leasing scandal, the US and Britain began to give it a wide berth, with the then British envoy, Sir Edward Clay, dramatically accusing individuals in the administration of overeating and vomiting on the shoes of their benefactors, the president turned to China as an alternative means of support.

Traditionally, Kenya had obtained its security equipment mainly from the West but the Kibaki administration started looking elsewhere. The British were also not amused when the government, which had for a long time preferred the British-made Land Rovers for use by government officials, and particularly security officers, began to buy Japanese autos. To make matters worse, senior government officials, who for many years exclusively drove the German-made Mercedes Benz, began to use Japanese 4x4s as well.

The tourism sector was not left out. With the number of visitors from Britain and the US falling as a result of travel advisories, Kenya began to look to the East. Suddenly there was an avalanche of Chinese visitors. National carrier, Kenya Airways, extended its routes to several Chinese cities and offered discounts on such routes. However, it did not take long for players in the tourism sector to notice that the Chinese were not good spenders and tour operators turned focus again to traditional markets. A local newspaper once cheekily reported that even the commercial sex workers who benefit form tourism were complaining about the poor pay for services offered to Chinese tourists!

In trade, the Western countries were alarmed, when cheap (mostly counterfeit) goods, particularly electronics and clothes from China began to flood the Kenyan market, replacing formerly strong British and Japanese brands.

It was against this background that the US and Britain began to support the then opposition ODM in their bid to oust increasingly anti-western Kibaki government. Prior to the 2007 campaigns, opposition leaders made many trips to Washington and London, mainly to raise funds. Unconfirmed reports have it that several US and UK businesses provided financial backing to the ODM campaign as several Chinese ones did the same for the PNU. They all hoped to be paid back in form of business opportunities once their benefactors won the election.

The political settlement arrived at after the Koffi Annan mediation has provided both sides with opportunities to angle and haggle for their pound of flesh.

We have learnt that the US and the UK are keen to have several important cabinet positions go to ODM ministers and they are stopping at nothing to ensure this is done. Likewise the Chinese, who have strong friends in the PNU ranks, are stopping at nothing to ensure that their friends retain the important dockets they hold in government.

The struggle is so intense with a source informing us that the Chinese are resorting to unorthodox tricks. Needless to say, the Chinese care little for image. Back home China is anything but a democracy. Self-determination by groups such as the Tibetians has been frustrated and as we went to the press there were international demonstrations by Tibetians calling for independence and democracy. Corruption thrives in Beijing and one out of three Chinese products is likely to be a counterfeit.

We have established that it is in this light that the US is insisting that the Finance docket goes to ODM. This is perhaps the most important ministry which handles all the government’s money. The minister is the custodian of all government financial resources. It is the ministry that decides how resources are allocated and also how to raise such resources, including through the sale of state companies such as Safaricom.

The occupant of the office is such a key figure and it is not difficult to see why the foreign interests want a friendly politician in the position. There are a few names the US is floating for the ministry. They include pentagon member Musalia Mudavadi who would also be Deputy Prime Minister, Chris Obure and Chris Okemo. These three have served in this ministry before and successfully presented budget estimates.

But even as the Western powers want an ODM man in the post, the Chinese are backing the incumbent Amos Kimunya who ahs served their interests very well since he was appointed. It will be interesting to see who carries the day.

Similarly, the US and their EU allies want a friend in the Internal Security docket. The interests here are both security and business. They want a politician who will be tough as far as the fight against terrorism is concerned and at the same time influence the award of security tenders to western companies.

A source intimated to us that the US will be stopping at nothing to ensure and ODM politician occupies this position. The argument is ODM, which ahs a massive Muslim backing, is in a better position to neutralize Muslim hardliners which will make it difficult for terrorists either to recruit or operate among the Muslim population. The names of Henry Kosgey and Joe Nyagah are being mentioned as possible occupants of the position currently held by the mathematics professor George Saitoti.

The Chinese have displayed little interest in this position because apart from wishing to have adequate security for their interests in Kenya, they do not have a lot of interests in the internal security equipment industry.

But they have displayed interest in the Defence ministry because they want to deal in military hardware. The Chinese are doing good business supplying arms such as to war-torn eastern Sudan, never mind the international criticism that Khartoum is using arms, jets and tanks supplied by Beijing to commit atrocities in Darfur.

But the US wants a friend here as well and the name of former army Major-General Joseph Nkaissery is being floated.

The Chinese have also shown strong interest in the Trade and Industry ministry. China is today known as the workshop of the world that produces a wide range of products from electronics to textiles and even household goods.

Since Kibaki came to power, the local market has been flooded with Chinese products. While they are cheap, they do not last long; acquiring the name “use-and-throw-away”.

The number of Chinese businessmen and traders has been increasing each passing day. In Nairobi, the Chinese invasion is such that many retail outfits are run by Chinese. The Chinese are not eager to relinquish this privilege and thus the push to have a friendly minister in that position.

But the US and allies are also interested in this. They are keen to stop Chinese products from replacing theirs on the shop shelves. They want a friendly politician who will be tough on dumping and counterfeits – from China of course.

The other ministry that is creating cold war between the West and China is the Roads and Public Works. Lately China has been providing assistance in the construction of infrastructure. But this is not for free since the money end up in the pockets of Chinese construction companies. Although award of tenders theoretically is as a result of competitive bidding, the reality is that the political leader of the ministry has a lot of influence.

While the US is fighting to have an ODM minister in the position, the Chinese are rooting for John Michuki, the current occupant. Early this year as the country burned, Michuki visited China and Malaysia for unexplained reasons. When he reported back, he was taken ill and admitted to hospital. Later it emerged he had suffered food poisoning.

The West will like to see many US and European companies involved in roads construction. Additionally, they would not mind the ministry to continue to procure road construction equipment from them.

The other hotly contested ministry is Health. This ministry consumes a substantial amount of the country’s resources particularly with the challenges of HIV/AIDS and Malaria. There is also expensive medical equipment to procure.

US and UK pharmaceuticals have traditionally dominated the supply of drugs to Kenya although other players from India have come in with generics and the Chinese with mainly herbal-based drugs.

The US is not about to relinquish its dominant position in the supply of medicine especially the anti-retroviral drugs. They are also not keen to let go of their position in the supply of medical equipment. A friendly minister at Afya House would help facilitate this. They are campaigning for the reappointment of former minister Charity Ngilu.

Equally competitive is the ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although not significant in terms of business, it is strategic as it informs the government’s foreign policy which ahs a bearing on trade and business,

The West remains outraged that the Kibaki government has warmed up to the East, which for many years and particularly during the cold war was shunned by both Kenyatta and the Moi Governments.

About two years ago, the Chinese president Hu Jintao visited Kenya and President Mwai Kibaki has made several trips to Beijing. The US and UK are unhappy with this paradigm shift and keen to revert to the earlier status. A friendly minister at the ministry will not be a bad idea. Such a minister will also be useful in the lobbying by the powerful nations for support on serious international subjects such as war in terrorism, Iran, Iraq and Sudan question among others.

The other ministry that has attracted foreign interest is the Energy Ministry in charge of electricity and oil. Before other players came in, the British and American companies dominated trade in oil and oil products in Kenya. Lately, the Libyans have joined the fray. The Chinese and their allies are also keen to be part of this business and thus the push for a friend in the ministry.

More importantly, Kenya could still strike oil in the future. There is intense competition by foreign companies for a go at oil exploration. Both Western and Chinese companies want a piece of the action and it will depend very much on who will be at the Energy headquarters at Nyayo House to determine who will get the biggest piece.

It should be noted that since independence, foreign forces have used certain ministers in government to push their agenda. Right at independence, Tom Mboya, was used to lobby for US interests while Odinga Oginga did the spadework for the then USSR.

Others like Bruce Mackenzie were known agents of the British. In later years, Robert Ouko became the darling of the West, an enviable position coveted by the likes of Nicholas Biwott. While circumstances have changed, interests have remained the same and jostling among foreign powers to have friends high up in government remains the order of the day.

It remains to be seen who will eventually carry the day as this new cold war between USA and communist capitalist-driven China battle for markets and sources of raw materials.

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One Response to America Secret Hand in New Cabinet List

Anonymous said...

What happened to summaries, i miss my literature class. Do you expect someone to be idle enough to read all this?
This sounds like another obsession with America.