Don't lead us back to war

Thursday April 9 2009

‘Ordinary Kenyans are shocked and angry that a coalition which seemed to be working reasonably well has, without warning, erupted into insults and threats’.

‘Ordinary Kenyans are shocked and angry that a coalition which seemed to be working reasonably well has, without warning, erupted into insults and threats’. 

The people of Kenya are watching with mounting apprehension as their political leaders threaten to once again send Kenya down the path of death and destruction.

Those entrusted with the responsibility of creating a new democratic, peaceful and stable Kenya are forgetting their primary mandate by veering off into reckless quarrels, some of it driven by shortsighted competition for power. The rifts being witnessed in the Grand Coalition government cannot be taken lightly.

Left unchecked, they will plunge Kenya into the chaos and anarchy that this coalition was specifically established to cure.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga came together under the power-sharing agreement because that was the only way to pull Kenya back from the brink as violence spiralled out of control in the wake of a disputed election.

We shall not go that way again. It should be crystal clear that if ethnic fighting recurs in Kenya, all the Kofi Annans in the whole wide world might not be enough to put it back together again.

The friction in the grand coalition might seem the usual political squabbling, but it masks mortal danger. It could tear this country apart if our leaders refuse to see sense and solve their differences by talking to each other and respecting their promises.

The ordinary person is shocked and angry that a coalition that seemed to be working reasonably well has, without warning, erupted into insults and threats.

Our leaders have gone from jointly defending the effectiveness of the coalition in fulfilling its promise to fight corruption, reform the state reignite development to trading accusations and assuming extreme positions at the public podium.

It is quite clear that the Coalition principals are not talking to each other. It appears to us that in many instances the Prime Minister and the President are issuing public statements of government policy before consulting each other.

What happened to their weekly consultative meetings? What happened to the Thursday Cabinet sessions? And the Cabinet committees, at which consensus was supposed to be hammered out on government business?

If government has to work, there must be consultation and respect for procedures and structures. The traditions of government, such as confidentiality and collective responsibility, must be observed.

Two silos have been created, one around the President and another around the Prime Minister. On Kibaki’s side, Kenyans sense that a hardcore group of old-style politicians are resisting genuine power-sharing and change. Much of the State machinery has also refused to adjust to the collegial realities of a coalition.

Mr Odinga’s half of the coalition, on its part, sees in most issues an opportunity to expand influence and claim its 50 per cent. Equity is required in the National Accord, but the government cannot mathematically and precisely shared down the middle.

Because government is a complex bureaucracy, parties in a coalition must be willing to compromise and make sacrifices for the common good.

ODM has long companied that it was given the short end of the stick despite a power-sharing agreement that gave it equal status with PNU.

The President and the Prime Minister are supposed to share power on a 50-50 basis. But other than getting its quota of ministers and assistant ministers, it is fact that ODM did get the opportunity to make as many appointments as PNU.

The Prime Minister was supposed to be an equal partner with the president, and specifically by the amended Constitution and the Laws of Kenya, was supposed to be responsible for overall coordination and supervision of government affairs.

But he says he has not been allowed to exercise his responsibilities because all such power still is in the Office of the President, exercised on his behalf by the Head of the Public Service.

The coalition will not work unless the agreement signed between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga is obeyed to the full and the contradictions regarding the authority of the Premier vis-à-vis the head of the Civil Service are resolved.

There has been a counter-argument that a country cannot have two centres of power. But with honesty and goodwill, a prime minister and a president can share power and authority efficiently and with amity.

The Prime Minister’s complaint that he is not allowed to freely exercise his constitutional functions and that his office is not being respected must be addressed. But he, too, must respect the presidency and seek to resolve the frustrations of office with restraint and away from the glare of the public.

In seeking to get its share of public appointments, ODM has threatened to sack the parastatal chiefs in Ministry headed by its party members.

That would be grossly unfair to innocent managers of public institutions. While senior public appointments must be handled with the concurrence of both sides, we would be treading into dangerous ground if positions that must be left strictly neutral were to be filled with political appointees.

All these issues, and many others, which threaten to destroy the coalition could surely be handled easily if there was goodwill from both sides.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga must go back to the statesmanship they displayed a year ago and arrived at a compromise which saved the country. They must come together, iron out their differences and get this coalition back on track.

Should they re-activate the Serena negotiating team or can the coalition management committee rise to the occasion?

An urgent task might be to work out clear details for the coalition governing structure, reporting lines, the pecking order, protocol issues and the powers and privileges of the principals. We hope never again to be subjected to complaints in public about one being denied a toilet or not having a suitable carpet.

As Parliament reconvenes with a crowded and critical legislative agenda, more than any other time the government needs to work together.

This unity is require to drive the reforms in the National Accord consisting of constitutional review, the tribunal for trial of serious post-election violence crimes, the truth and justice process, electoral system reform, resettlement of IDPs, healing ethnic relations, land issues, closing the rich-poor gap and general inequalities in society.

No serious work will proceed on the remaining phases of the comprehensive reform programme under a divided government.

If these issues are not resolved before the next elections, then we again face the danger of reversing to that bloody conflict we came out of. The President and the Prime Minister must regain the initiative and demonstrate the leadership that has been sorely lacking.

They can start by shutting up their respective minions, calling off the planned public rallies and meeting to resolve the issues that divide them. That is not too much to ask. It is the only way out for Kenya.