Kwendo Opanga: Kenyans, fasten your seat

We went to the polls seven months ago today and voted ourselves four months of political madness and mayhem. Now we must fasten our seatbelts and go through the turbulence of a four-year-long election campaign.

That is what should concern us when Party of National Unity (PNU) stalwarts Justice minister Martha Karua and assistant minister Danson Mungatana declare interest in the presidency and premiership come 2012.

It is this that should interest us when President Kibaki, he who has made silence, composure and mysteriousness his trademarks, pitches for the dissolution of PNU affiliate parties and the emergence of a single party.

We should be alarmed that only seven months ago politicians and parties who were spelling out their visions for the next five years are now embarking on another campaign before delivering on a single plank of their election platforms.

Why? Because this way it will be a long time before the Kenyan ship of state and the politics settle. One of the reasons why the ship of state will not settle soon is the politics. And the reason the politics will not settle soon is politics.

Marriage of convenience

The politics will not settle soon because our so-called grand coalition is not even a marriage of convenience; it is a forced marriage. Everything in it may have to be forced through or fought over.

Secondly, coalitions — grand or humble — are fragile or even frigid affairs. When politicians and the politics of a governing coalition are unsettled, the turbulence unleashed shakes government, sullies relationships, soils decision-making and decisions made and slows down business.

Notice that some politicians have already convinced themselves that the hour of reckoning will come before 2012 when government will be faced with a crucial vote in the House.

One of the partners could vote to bring it down. But given that such a move could take Kenya back to January or turn a polls-weary electorate against them, they should be prepared to tolerate each other for as long as possible. That, however, is easier declared than delivered.

It is why the leader of a coalition government needs to be a juggler of party balls, a reader of the minds and thoughts of friends and foes alike, and a magician who always has a survival rabbit hidden in her kit of tricks.

This leader must keep coalition partners happy and forever tries to ensure she has enough numbers to see off a no-confidence vote. They just returned controversial media magnate Silvio Berlusconi to power in Italy after the ruling coalition collapsed.

Last week in India, the government survived a no-confidence vote by a paper thin majority.

President Kibaki faced a torrid and horrid time in the first two years of his first term at the hands of a rebellious Liberal Democratic Party, which he short-changed as he constructed his 2003 Cabinet and ignored a pre-poll seat-sharing and power pact.

The President only managed to stem paralysis in government by kicking out LDP Members of Parliament from the Cabinet and bringing in non-National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) MPs to shore up his support.

Now in his second and final term, the President is in party political terms a lame duck. But, clearly interested in serving a full five-year term and in his succession, he is trying belatedly to form a political party.

The result, as was the case in 2003 when he attempted to dissolve the parties that formed Narc, is open revolt in the ranks of the disparate parties that form the corporation that is PNU.

The difference is that the President’s allies fear that as attention focuses on the next General Election, the rival yet coalition partner Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) remains a single entity.

The PNU parties have their own grouses and axes to grind regarding the way Cabinet posts were shared out and, even more important, they are independently positioning themselves for the 2012 General Election.

These parties know that the President will have no role in their fate in 2012. They do not need him and see no reason to listen or defer to him.

It is why the tough as nails Karua is adamant Narc Kenya will not dissolve itself and remains her vehicle to State House in 2012.

President Kibaki will have to keep these parties happy and keep looking over his shoulders to ensure that Prime Minister Raila Odinga does not lead ODM out of the coalition.

He will also be hoping that the kind of scandalous revelations and parliamentary pressure that saw his trusted ally Amos Kimunya eat humble pie and quit the plum post of Finance minister will not recur.

PNU strategists worry that ODM, or to be precise Raila’s inner circle, could be plotting to bring down, or shatter the reputations of, their key rivals the way Lands minister James Orengo went for Kimunya’s jugular.

If this school of thought is to be believed then the ODM idea would be to identify the big beasts of the PNU jungle and hunt and gun them down one by one. That way come 2012 Raila would be left in the ring with a crowd of minnows.

But Raila’s advisers would be fooling themselves if they imagined that the big beasts of the ODM jungle would not want to take on Raila or make life difficult for him.

Already, there is discontent in ODM, with some Rift Valley MPs accusing Raila of sidelining them when choosing ODM’s slate of ministers and for decreeing that their people vacate or be evacuated from the Mau forest.

A nightmare scenario for ODM would be a raid from Trade Minister Uhuru Kenyatta or Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka or both that would see Agriculture Minister William Ruto team up with either man or both in a rival coalition or party.

Two governments

Do not be deceived that intense competition on the political front does not affect the running of government. It does. In fact, intense competition is euphemism for fierce rivalry. This is what Mr Gitobu Imanyara means when he says Kenya has two governments.

Inevitably this kind of rivalry leads to some ministers attempting to block their colleagues from pushing through their agenda and there are indeed ministers who loathe the idea of the PM overseeing what they do.

Is there a way out of this reckless ruckus in government? It is for the President and Prime Minister to rein in their troops and insist that while they can collide on issues and collude to smear each other, connive and conspire against each other’s policy plans, they must stick together for the remaining four and half years.

Kenyans want the pledges and promises made on the campaign stumps last December fulfilled. They want the pledges and promises made by President Kibaki and the PM in their power-sharing pact honoured.

If not, good people, fasten your seat belts for a marathon roller coaster ride.


Folks, my long and continuing journey as a columnist began right here in 1990. I left for distant lands eight years later and I have since seen and heard and done plenty.

I return because I want to age wisely here at home. Thanks for your warm welcome. I still love controversy.

Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant.

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