What Americans really think of Kibaki and Raila
Posted Friday, March 4 2011 at 22:00
- Leaked US diplomatic letters describe Kibaki as a man who knows about the corrupt ways of his key ministers but is unwilling to act and Odinga as an ineffective leader unable to deal with incompetence besetting his own office
The US embassy assessed President Kibaki to be in good health and firmly in control while Prime Minister Raila Odinga is depicted as a politician who would put his presidential ambitions ahead of reforms.
Leaked diplomatic cables offer the most comprehensive portrait yet published of the two men who have been at the heart of the political scene for the last decade, President Kibaki and PM Odinga.
Based on diverse sources including US envoy’s meetings with the pair and interviews of their closest associates, a picture emerges of the coalition leaders that is sometimes hardly flattering because it is significantly different from the popular perception of them.
President Kibaki is cast as a man in control and in full health, despite his occasional appearances in public which create the impression of a hesitant and disengaged leader.
Mr Odinga in turn is described as a pragmatic politician who agreed to the post election coalition arrangement despite considerable pressure from allies.
But both men come in for severe criticism, some of it delivered by their most trusted aides.
Mr Odinga is depicted as a politician who has placed his own presidential ambitions ahead of the fight for reforms, despite his public pose as a champion of the reform effort.
The PM is also criticised as an ineffective leader whose office is beset by wrangles and incompetence, which he appears unable to deal with.
President Kibaki is described as a figure under siege from close allies and hardliners and as a man who knows about the corrupt ways of his key ministers but is unwilling to act.
State House and the Prime Minister’s office dismissed the contents of the cables on Friday evening. Presidential Press Service head Isaiya Kabira said the profile of Mr Kibaki painted by the cables was contradicted by the president’s record.
“Anybody criticising the President’s reform credentials needs only to examine the achievements recorded under his watch. He has helped revive institutions that were on the verge of collapse, streamlined the way government is run and the whole process of reform culminated in the endorsement of the new Constitution, which is a charter that offers the most comprehensive blueprint for institutional reform in the nation’s history. The President is now trying to consolidate that record by supporting implementation of the new Constitution.”
Dennis Onyango, communications director at the Prime Minister’s office, said the cables were inaccurate and had been given attention they don’t deserve, especially considering they are “basically stolen information.”
“The PM understands that US foreign policy is not made on the basis of what is contained in these cables so he isn’t really paying that much attention to them. As to what the US thinks of the principals, Kenyans understand the President and the PM are much more complex than the picture being portrayed in the cables. The Principals deal with many more people and if all were to give their assessment, a picture would emerge of much more sophisticated leaders.”
The entire batch of cables leaked by whistle-blowing agency WikiLeaks and made available to the Saturday Nation reveals the most candid thoughts of diplomats, ministers and top civil servants, who freely spoke to US embassy officials believing that the conversations would never be revealed outside official American circles.
One of the most forthright descriptions of Mr Odinga is given by one of his main allies, Lands minister James Orengo.
US ambassador Michael Ranneberger met both Mr Orengo and head of Public Service Francis Muthaura in mid 2009 to press them to push Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to speed up the process of reforms. In his meeting with Mr Ranneberger, the Lands minister shared his frustration with the PM.
“After I reviewed the state of play along lines similar to those I employed with Muthaura, Orengo admitted frustration about the slow movement on the reform agenda. He said that Prime Minister Odinga must bear substantial responsibility for this. Orengo made clear his view that Kibaki and his people do not favour far-reaching reforms, but at the same time, he said, Odinga has not been forthright in driving implementation of the reform agenda. Odinga has done nothing to reorganise his office to make it more effective; Odinga is a poor manager who does not follow up; and he is primarily focused on preparing for his presidential run in 2012, Orengo said. Odinga has avoided bold moves because he is hostage to his difficult political constituency, Orengo said. In essence, Orengo concluded, Odinga wants to maintain support from the diverse elements of his Orange Democratic Movement coalition, and that means he has pulled his punches on issues like the Special Tribunal.”