The buck stops with Kibaki and Raila

The resumption of talks on the formation of the Grand Coalition Cabinet between prime minister-designate Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki on Saturday is a welcome development.

Their earlier failure to strike a quick deal was not necessarily a reflection of the divergent aspirations and ambitions of their respective parties.

It was a frightening example of brinkmanship and did not augur well for the Grand Coalition or its future.

It was also an example of two men blinded by politics and the sole need to reward their friends in the political class to the degree that they simply ignored the interests, suffering and pain of ordinary citizens, who also happen to be voters.

The Sunday Nation welcomes the softening of positions in these negotiations, particularly by the Orange Democratic Party which has dropped its preconditions to negotiations. We hope that the President and his partner will be ready to name their Cabinet on Sunday.

IN THAT SPIRIT, WE ENCOURAGE President Kibaki and his government coalition to take bold and generous steps so that the Cabinet is speedily named and the country put on a recovery footing.

The Sunday Nation does not think for a minute that the formation of the Cabinet is an insurmountable intellectual exercise. The National Accord law is very clear: positions must not be created for individuals; they must be created because they are necessary to run the government and improve the lives of Kenyans.

The Sunday Nation stands implacably behind our proposal of a 24 ministry Cabinet; we believe this number of positions is sufficient to run the country and ensure fair representation.

We believe the division of responsibilities is fair and represents genuine portfolio balance and takes into account the interests of both the President and the prime minister.

There is no doubt in the minds of Kenyans that the recent widening of the gap between the two was the result of poor handling of the negotiations and failure in leadership. It is a poor leader indeed who, rather than forming his own team in accordance with his own values and judgment of the people around him, relies on the same people seeking positions to help him make up his mind about which jobs to give and to whom.

This failure in leadership first manifested itself at Harambee House last Saturday when Mr Kibaki went to the meeting accompanied by a large contingent of his present Cabinet, and Mr Odinga arrived with an equally large group of cabinet hopefuls. It was a shining example of leaders telling their followers: Here is the cake; it is up to you to decide what to give away.

We are gratified to see that Saturday’s meeting was strictly between the President and the prime minister-designate. It’s their call, the buck stops with them, not with their followers and allies.

When choosing their dozen ministers, Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki should exercise great care. They must examine the history of the person to whom they are entrusting the management of the affairs and resources of this country.

IF THEY CHOOSE A PERSON WHO HAS a history of corruption, incompetence, indolence, dishonesty or tribalism, Kenyans will assume that the leader making the appointment sees nothing wrong with those vices and by making the appointment is actually endorsing them.

The stretching of the Cabinet to include 40 ministers to accommodate allies is another inexcusable example of a lack of decisiveness masquerading as inclusiveness. There is no law in this country that states that all tribes must be represented in the Cabinet. Indeed, no tribe has asked for a cabinet position. Tribes have just been used by the political elite to press their case.

It is blindingly manifest that whether the Cabinet is expanded to include 100 people, someone will inevitably be disappointed. So why waste money trying to please everyone?

Equally, the tribes that voted for whatever candidate did not do so in exchange for Cabinet posts. This is a fiction being used by the position-seekers. Voters cast their ballots for the men and women of whichever party so they would work hard and deliver for the whole country.

LEADERS WHO ENCOURAGED TRIBALISM and created expectations in an effort to win votes are squarely to blame for their own predicament, and it is up to them to resolve it.

The two leaders must rely not on tribal chieftains and factotums to take their case to the public. Rather, they should work hard in genuine unity and goodwill. The fruits of that cooperation will make a case strong enough to satisfy Kenyans.

But if Mr Odinga and President Kibaki feel that they can’t serve Kenyans and contain the ambitions of their allies within a Cabinet of 24, then they are obviously the wrong leaders for this country because they are not listening to the people, nor are they serving the wishes of the majority but only those of their allies in the political elite.

Kenya does not require the intervention of foreign powers to appoint Cabinet ministers or permanent secretaries. These and other political appointments can be made through consultations between the two leaders. If they can’t do that in the course of one afternoon, they can’t govern jointly.

The post-election violence and constant bickering have exposed Kenya’s internal affairs to interference by foreign interests. Sometimes it appears that our leaders are more eager to glad-hand foreign diplomats — and to whine to them about the problems the same leaders have created for this country — than they are to brief Kenyans on what they are doing and how it will improve their livelihoods.

And if every time there is a difference of opinion between ODM and the Party of National Unity violence is going to break out, then what kind of future is there for the Grand Coalition?

The delay in forming a government acceptable to the people undermines the public’s confidence in ability of elected leaders to efficiently manage the affairs of a bruised nation like Kenya. If they should finally come to a meeting of minds, then President Kibaki and Mr Odinga must convince Kenyans that the coalition they have cobbled together will not suffocate this nation through fudging and indecision.

THEY SHOULD STOP THINKING about the next election; they must stop approaching this challenge as though they were forming two rival governments; and they should stop regarding each other as a mortal rival.

They are partners, and if they work together they can pull this thing off and render great service to this country.

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