Charles Onyango Obbo: Why the Kibaki-Raila dog will be a good hunter

Ever since Kenya's grand coalition Government was forged over 100 days ago from the ashes of the post-December election violence, it has been hard to find anyone outside the ministers in it and the American, British and German envoys who thinks it will last up to 2012.

President Kibaki, a man who is not famous for being talkative, is upbeat about the coalition whenever he speaks. ODM leader and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, has been notably voluble about the Government’s prospects.

At various interviews in his hectic international schedule, he has sold the grand coalition as “the solution” to Africa’s tribal-riven politics.

I will not bet the house on the survival of the grand coalition (I am not deluded), but I am willing to put my shirt on it limping on to 2012.

For starters, because there are internal political battles to fight (witness Narc-K shaking the PNU tree), and there is an election in under five years in which the incumbent is not standing, no one in the coalition has time to spare to work on breaking it up.

Many factors will determine the future of the coalition, but at the level of personalities, President Kibaki and Premier Odinga hold the key to its survival.

To start with President Kibaki, it is remarkable seeing ministers, including junior ones, and minor party officials ticking him off about his attempt to consolidate PNU and, allegedly, to “impose” a successor.

Going by this, commentators and critics have written the President off as damaged goods, your typical lame-duck president in his last term of office.

If that is true, then it also means that President Kibaki isn’t powerful enough to wreck the coalition.

Secondly, if he is losing grip, then the success of the coalition is the main thing he has to hold on as his legacy. My own sense is that all he has to do to secure his legacy is to sleep throughout the next four years, leaving things as they are.

Mr Odinga, on the other hand, has even less reason to tear up the grand coalition.

During the campaigns it became clear that there was quite some unease in parts of Kenya as to whether he could be “trusted”, and whether he was still a “dangerous” radical and glass-breaker.

In the last three months, he has done a lot to soften his image and look presidential. He positions himself as the great team-player, and is robust in his defence of Mr Kibaki, a fact which should place him in good standing with some of the President’s staunch supporters.

But perhaps the greater discovery has been his appeal abroad.

His record of democratic struggle, and folksy political style – speeches full of proverbs and stories about rain-soaked lions being mistaken for cats, football tales and chants on stage, and the urban underclass’s fascination with grandeur (the Hummer) – looked unsuited to a sophisticated international stage.

But Raila soon realised that African leaders tend to form a club of villains to defend their corrupt and cruel ways, and to blame all their problems on Western conspiracies.

He broke ranks, and in the case of Zimbabwe, became the first African (indeed world) leader to use the word “shame” and “election thief” to describe Robert Mugabe’s action. With that, he not only stood apart, he became the darling of the international press.

However, by softening his image, Mr Odinga has alienated the radical constituencies in ODM, and these will probably peel off from the movement by 2012.

He probably calculates that he needs to be nice to Mr Kibaki to pick up new support that will compensate for that loss.

So, there is the deal: Raila treats Mr Kibaki respectfully, and continues to cultivate a moderate image, then he will be extremely competitive in 2012.

Mr Kibaki doesn’t need to endorse him, of course. All he has to do is not to oppose him. Then he can make his pick for successor from PNU ranks.

That way, if Mr Odinga wins, he will be grateful that President Kibaki didn’t undermine him.

If Mr Kibaki’s chosen successor wins, the victor will forever be thankful to the old man for anointing him. Either way, Mr Kibaki wins. All this bodes well for the coalition.

The other legitimate argument that has been made against the coalition is that it is “an arranged marriage”. That is slightly inaccurate, because Kenya didn’t have a choice if it wanted to remain one country and to stop the slaughter.

But do all arranged marriages fail? There is a view that arranged marriages last longer than those born of love. Expectations are very low, or sometimes non-existent, so disappointment levels tend to be low too.

Of more interest is whether anyone really ever marries for love.

Usually, we are either trying to beat the biological clock; want to end our loneliness; we finally got a job and can afford to raise a family; or just feel the pressure from friends and family to get hitched; or think we have finally found the “right seed” to father or mother our children.

Show me someone who married purely out of love and I will show you a fool.

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