MT Akelo-Misori: Day of reckoning over ODM promises is near

Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s tour of Nyanza and Western provinces was refreshing and piteous in equal measure.

Large crowds cheered the man yet at Kisumu, of all places, the excitement he arouses was tempered with popular disapproval for the Grand Coalition Government that he supports.

Why such a turnaround by notorious Railamaniacs? The PM’s parties were concurrent with rising hostility between new factions in ODM emanating from diversity of views on the ‘Grand Coalition Opposition’, which he opposes. This enmity truncates differing interpretations of Raila’s stance on this issue; his alleged failure to assuage losers in Cabinet appointments; and transient debate on his or ODM’s stake in the coalition, which many see as top-heavy with PNU members.

During the ceremonies, Raila affirmed a fear being expressed quietly that he changed greatly during the post-elections crisis. At Bondo, he officiated at the opening of an Equity Bank branch and challenged supporters to nurture a culture of thrift. At Funyula, he attacked MPs behind the grand opposition push in characteristic fashion. It is also here where he confessed to receiving advice to split Kenya at the height of the crisis.

These issues reveal new chasms in ODM whereby Raila leads a moderate wing that seeks to slow radicals who want speedy conclusions of the election dispute, so-called historical grievances and a commensurate role for ODM in the grand coalition.

Raila appears to be on a mission to neuter youthful experiments with drastic reforms that he favoured not-so-long ago.

Many believe this to be a game plan, and it could still be. Yet many are also concerned that such a strategy can incorporate alienating progressive voices in a mass movement whose power to transform was well harnessed in the last elections.

The truth is, while Raila supporters are set to live with their man’s tactics, the movement must constantly assure impatient groups that voted for Raila to achieve urgent change that power is all-knowing.

Raila’s statements in western Kenya last week cohered with conservative views on poverty in those regions. Most symbolically, he made them at an Equity Bank function, with the bank’s top manager at hand to unveil a fund for small entrepreneurs. Even without the benefit of figures, how many western Kenyans benefit from the bank’s credit is anyone’s guess.

There are diverse explanations why western Kenya is poor. Large families, HIV/Aids, even lack of thrift are readily advanced in neoconservative logic. But one cannot fail to account for the part played by distorted development policies. Four decades after independence, far too many Kenyans in those parts are yet to have roads, social infrastructure or banks to keep their money. Their lake and farm produce rot before getting to the market or is bought at throwaway prices by rapacious, Nairobi-based middlemen.

In Bondo, Raila seemed to blame the victim. He is obligated to do better because he spent all his youth fighting the system. His Kisumu supporters disdain his embrace of Kibaki who, they maintain, gave ODM a raw deal. Yet, as Raila explained, he is an executive Prime Minister who must deliver on his election pledges.

Obstacles are as many as the challenges he must address, top of which is improving the remuneration and social condition of workers, like the long-running teachers’ pay dispute. Teachers, the backbone of whatever little development this society can boast of, are paid peanuts, while MPs, judges, bureaucrats and supposed anti-corruption officials gobble disproportionate share of the public expenditure without attendant results.

The Government’s pledge on free secondary education is a cropper; schools are grappling survival on shoe-string funding. Little talk is heard these days of the universal health plan that ODM promised, while corruption is yet to cease. A show of how blatant vested interests have become, Raila’s journey coincided with a bold assault on new pro-labour legislations by employers, the Judiciary and an embedded law society.

Last week also witnessed the collapse of collective bargaining talks for Government workers. Raila’s day of reckoning is near. He is new in office, but won’t be in a while. Luckily, with decades of poverty, adversity has taught the Kenyan worker some patience — and they are giving the PM a chance.

The writer is national chairman of the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Teachers

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