Macharia Gaitho: Kibaki-Raila synergy proves sceptics wrong

Slightly over 100 days of a loveless forced marriage can feel like an eternity, but President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga continue to confound skeptics with the way they have accepted and accommodated one another.

Even when their respective lieutenants within the Grand Coalition Government are busy hurling brickbats at each other, the President and the PM have not exchanged unkind words since they went into the power-sharing deal.

The two men may be polar opposites in many ways, but they do seem to enjoy a personal chemistry that puzzles many.

While the President rarely calls Cabinet meetings, a fact that may reinforce impressions of a dysfunctional government, he hosts the PM for weekly meetings at State House.

The coalition often presents the picture of a fractured government made up of two deeply hostile camps pulling in opposite directions. This makes even more vital the roles played by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga in keeping things together, and they have both been demonstrating at every opportunity that the coalition is united.

This is a scenario that confuses their respective sets of allies, many of who remain not only openly suspicious of the opposite side, but also worried that the two principals are leaving them out of the power-sharing equation.

In the Kibaki camp, for instance, many of the traditional political power brokers are openly resentful that they have lost out as the President comes to rely more and more on Mr Odinga whose clout is growing by the day.

Powerful politicians such as Cabinet ministers Martha Karua, Kiraitu Murungi and John Michuki might have thought that the entry of Mr Odinga into government merely gave them time to re-group and consolidate a hold on power while the newcomer played a peripheral role.

However, they have had to watch as Mr Odinga became the one to define the real role of the new Office of Prime Minister and firmly consolidate his own position within the power structure.

Then there are Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka of ODM-K and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of Kanu — the initial leaders incorporated into the PNU coalition to keep ODM at bay. The formation of the Grand Coalition reduced their clout in the Government dramatically.

Even the early tussle between Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka over the pecking order is no longer an issue as the former has entrenched his position.

Within Mr Odinga’s ODM, there have been similar issues, and compatriots who at one time might have viewed themselves as co-leaders have had to adapt to the new realities. Key members of the ODM Pentagon controlling sizeable blocs, notably Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Agriculture minister William Ruto, are now seen as ordinary Cabinet ministers rather than regional kingpins.

Mr Ruto’s populous Kalenjin bloc, however, remains a problem for Mr Odinga who has to increasingly contend with accusations that he sold out once he ascended to high office.

In many ways, the entry of Mr Odinga into government might have been the best thing that ever happened for President Kibaki in his final term.

If anything he has become a key asset. On his overseas travels, on meetings locally with visiting foreign dignitaries and also from his close links with the diplomatic community, the PM has emerged as a most enthusiastic spokesman and salesman for the coalition.

As seen on his visit to he UK, Mr Odinga is always effusive in his praise of the President and the way in which the two of them are working closely to shape a new Kenya.

This gives the President the legitimacy that was lost after the disputed elections, in addition to persuading the international community, donors and potential investors that Kenya is back to normal.

Mr Odinga has also played a key role in driving key initiatives, particularly in taking the lead on politically risky decisions such as the Mau Forest evictions.

With his legendary reputation for hard work and risk-taking, PM Odinga is the ideal partner for a famously laid-back and risk-averse President Kibaki, whose focus at this stage in his career might be a peaceful final term and plans for a retirement that will not be tainted by a legacy of having ruined the country.

Caused disarray

While the succession battle has caused disarray in the PNU ranks, there is some bit of calm in the ODM camp. Mr Odinga is quite secure in his position, but there is bound to be a scramble for the number two slot.

That both the presidency and the premiership being up for grabs create room for plenty of horse-trading, and even more so when the offices of vice-president and deputy prime ministers are added into the mix.

But one option that has not been examined seriously is that President Kibaki and Mr Odinga could decide to craft a joint succession plan. There might be some moves in this direction in the coming years, but it is apparent that the President is not as obsessed with the succession as are his supporters.

The President will not be a contender in 2012, and thus unlike some of his allies, does not see the Prime Minister as a threat.

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One Response to Macharia Gaitho: Kibaki-Raila synergy proves sceptics wrong

Moko said...

I noticed the following quote, that was referring to Kibaki's alleged "focus at this stage in his career might be a peaceful final term and plans for a retirement that will not be tainted by a legacy of having ruined the country".

This might be true, but I think it is too late, the man has already ruined the country.