Opposition equally clueless as State goofs on doctors’ strike

Tuesday February 21 2017

Doctors from private hospitals protest

Doctors from private hospitals protest in Kisumu on February 14, 2017 over the jailing of union leaders. The government has been criticised for not ending the doctors' strike. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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It would be a foolish Opposition that failed to milk political capital out of any government mistakes.

That is why Mr Raila Odinga and his band of merry men were justified to come out in support of the striking public sector doctors.

Failure to move expeditiously on what should have been a simple labour dispute exposes just how inept and uncaring the Jubilee government can be.

As the strike drags on, millions of Kenyans who do not have the wherewithal to pay for private medical services have suffered greatly, to the detriment of the Jubilee regime with a General Election around the corner.

Throwing the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union officials into jail was a particularly negative and ham-fisted move that clearly won the government few friends.

This is a situation where few would make the fine distinction that the strike is, strictly speaking, not just a central government headache as medical services have, to a large extent, been devolved to county administrations.

It has also largely escaped attention that it was the grouping of county governors that pushed to have the union officials thrown into jail for contempt of court.

The government is losing out on the public relations war here because of its own mismanagement of everything to do with the strike.

At times it washes its hands off the whole affair, insisting it is an issue for the 47 county governments to solve, but at the same time it has been central to the disjointed talks that have even drawn in President Uhuru Kenyatta.

AILING SECTOR
With the now emerging supremacy wars between Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu and Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri prolonging the impasse, President Kenyatta has no choice but to crack the whip.

However, the President might have contributed to the problem if it was on his orders that Dr Muraguri abandoned the strike mediation and diverted his attention to political errands around the Jubilee voter mobilisation drive in the party’s central Kenya ethnic stronghold.

Under any other circumstances, that would be gross dereliction of duty; but in this case, the PS was only serving a master for whom electioneering is more important than the suffering of millions.

Dr Mailu is hardly a choir boy in this regard, for he, too, has not been able to resist the call to ethnic political mobilisation.

Since his appointment in November 2015, Dr Mailu has enthusiastically run Jubilee political errands to his Kamba community, probably leaving little time for proper management of the sickly ministry.

Having joined the ministry after a long stint as the CEO of Kenya’s most expensive private medical facility, the Nairobi Hospital, he might have forgotten just how important the public health sector is to the majority, who don’t have the money to patronise those over-rated cash machines.

Since Dr Mailu and Dr Muraguri will not be seeking re-election alongside President Kenyatta, they may both have to be dispensed with if their boss does not want to be left holding the can.

In the meantime, the Opposition has been gifted the opportunity to turn the screws on the government’s uncaring handling of the doctors’ strike.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

But typically, Mr Odinga and his colleagues screwed up. Their entry into the fray was clumsy and revealed a bunch more intent on riding on the suffering of Kenyans than in rescuing them from misrule.

The Nasa formation missed a golden chance to offer itself as the voice of reason, as the leadership-in-waiting ready to rescue the country from Jubilee misrule.

By simply going into its default attack mode, the Opposition did nothing to demonstrate that it has practical and workable solutions to the strike or to any other ills facing Kenya.

This would have been the chance for Mr Odinga to come across as the reasonable statesman, but he only played into the Jubilee depictions of the perpetual rabble-rouser.

No wonder there has been renewed Jubilee propaganda accusing the opposition chief of being behind the strike.

So the strike goes on. But in the meantime, we might be losing sight of election offences taking place right under our noses as Jubilee deploys public servants and public funds to its voter recruitment drives in selected ethnic zones.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho