Macharia Gaitho: Cabinet ministers must stop talking out of turn

IT WAS JUST THE OTHER DAY that Cabinet ministers, assistant ministers and permanent secretaries gathered for what was described as a bonding session.

The meeting was supposed to lay down the law on how the Grand Coalition Government made up of representatives of rival parties would function smoothly.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga used the function to impress on them that they were now in one government, not a ‘two-in-one’ arrangement.

There was plenty of talk about working in unison, pulling in the same direction, not speaking out of turn, resolving issues internally rather than making noise on the public platform, and respecting the doctrine of collective responsibility.

The team-building and bonding session was, obviously, a total failure. Just scan through what has been coming out in public, and it becomes clear that many Cabinet ministers still owe their first loyalty to their respective political parties.

There are some from ODM who are talking as if they are still in the opposition, and there are some from PNU who are behaving as if they own the Government. I don’t know where else in the world Cabinet ministers would take to the rostrum to make demands on the same Government they serve.

Over the weekend, for instance, we heard renewed calls for the release of those arrested in the Rift Valley over their roles in plotting and executing the post-election carnage.

These calls were coming, not from some motley bunch of MPs and councillors, but from some of the most important figures in the coalition, including the Prime Minister himself, and Cabinet ministers William Ruto and Henry Kosgey.

Now, maybe those who perpetrated the organised bloodletting in the wake of the disputed presidential election ought to be let free in the interests of coalition harmony. Those at the rallies where the calls were referred to them as “our boys”, and Mr Odinga pointedly stated that those arrested fought for democracy.

Those are admissions as clear as can be that the killers and arsonists responsible for the worst ethnic bloodletting in independent Kenya were serving a political cause and did not just rise spontaneously in anger as has been claimed.

But that is beside the point for now. The issue is whether those responsible, whatever side of the divide they killed for, ought to have been freed as part of the negotiated political settlement.

Such demands at this stage are very strange for the simple reason that nowhere in the power-sharing agreement was there mention of blanket amnesty for murderers, rapists, looters and arsonists.

That is not to say the issue cannot be discussed. The initial violence may have been organised, funded and executed by one side aggrieved by the extremely suspicious outcome of the general election.

But there was also, excessive use of force by the police, as well as retaliatory attacks by irregular militias apparently dispatched to do what the security organs of government could not do.

ONE SIDE MAY HAVE BORNE THE brunt of the killings and suffered the most from displacement, but ultimately, there were atrocities on both sides.

Walking around free are many people who revelled in spilling blood and who would be quite happy to be of service again if called upon.

Those arrested can be only a fraction of those involved, and there might be cause for concern that the authorities were not even-handed when it came to pursuing the perpetrators. If there is to be final closure to the whole sorry episode, it will not be in wholesale amnesty or in leaders demanding that their respective murderers be let-off, but in a more viable and inclusive process under the truth and justice process.

In the meantime, however, Cabinet ministers should be pressing their concerns in the proper forums, within the Cabinet, rather than making public demands and inciting their people against the very government they serve.

All those serving in the Grand Coalition Cabinet surely have the very sacred burden of working towards healing the wounds and setting Kenya back on the path towards peace, unity, stability, democracy and prosperity.

This government was formed out of a unique and very critical situation, and it must show that it is operating in unity because that is what will set the good example for the rest of us who may have turned against neighbour.

Taking to the public matters that could best be resolved through quiet consultation is just another way of sending out the message that the Grand Coalition arrangement is just a charade that will soon crumble.
It is a way of priming those who have been used on murderous sprees to be at the ready in case they are called into action again.

Such manoeuvres we could do without. Yet we must acknowledge that there are some grave issues that will not be wished away.

President Kibaki rarely calls Cabinet meetings, and when he does, prefers not to have unpleasant matters on the agenda. Now he must call a meeting and have those sensitive matters that are being raised addressed without delay.

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