President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday came face-to-face for the first time in more than two weeks in a move that signified an easing of political tensions within the coalition government.
Business in the Cabinet and Parliament has been at a near-stalemate since the PNU and ODM wings of the government differed over the leadership of government business in Parliament and chairmanship of the House Business Committee.
But on Monday, the two leaders met and agreed on the transfer of Mr Mutula Kilonzo to head the ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, which has been vacant since the resignation of Ms Martha Karua last month.
Mr Kilonzo’s former Nairobi Metropolitan Development docket was taken over by Ndia MP Njeru Githae, formerly assistant minister for Local Government, a position filled by Kikuyu MP Lewis Nguyai.
Apart from the appointments, a statement from the Presidential Press Service said that the President and the Prime Minister “began consultations on the issue of Leader of Government Business in Parliament and chairmanship of the House Business Committee”.
It is a requirement under the National Accord that all Cabinet appointments and sackings be made in consultations between the President and Prime Minister.
But Mr Odinga’s ODM has been insisting that consultation is required for all appointments.
The latest row was sparked off immediately after the opening of the new session of Parliament when the PM wrote to the Speaker, appointing himself Leader of Government Business and chairman of the House Business Committee, despite the fact that the President had already appointed Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.
The ensuing deadlock resulted in the historic ruling last week by Speaker Kenneth Marende, who took over, in an interim capacity, as chairman of the House Business Committee until the government provides one nominee for the position.
The Speaker also ruled that the post of Leader of Government Business remains vacant until the government nominates one person.
Mr Odinga has been arguing that the National Accord automatically makes him Leader of Government Business by virtue of his role as supervisor and coordinator of government affairs, but President Kibaki’s allies accuse him of trying to usurp executive authority.
Immediately after the meeting at the President’s office at Harambee House, the two principals went for a tree-planting function in Ngong Forest.
The meeting and the trip to Ngong were highly symbolic at a time when the picture has been presented of a coalition government where the partners were at war.
Just last Thursday, when a Cabinet meeting that had been summoned failed to take place, Mr Odinga denied as propaganda claims by the Kibaki side that the meeting was cancelled because he had made himself unavailable.
The last time President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga were seen together was at the State opening of Parliament on April 21, which was just days after the two had met to resolve disputes arising out of the abortive Kilaguni Lodge talks.
On Monday, Mr Kilonzo said he was not privy to the discussions that took place between the President and the PM, although he was happy they had consensus over his new job.
“If they consulted and agreed on my appointment, then that is good and welcome since I will be expected to consult both sides in the course of my duties because of the expectations by Kenyans from such an office,” the Mbooni MP told the Nation in a telephone interview.
“Things will not work out if I am seen to carry the banner of politics whether on behalf of PNU or ODM into the office. Each action will be met by a reaction.”
Mr Kilonzo, an ODM Kenya MP and key ally of Vice -resident Musyoka, takes over a critical and sensitive docket that is responsible for most of the outstanding business on the reform agenda.
Ms Karua, the Narc Kenya chair, quit the Cabinet last month citing frustration from anti-reformists in government. She has since stepped up her early presidential campaign with the reform agenda as her main platform.
The elevation of Githae to the Cabinet is significant insofar as he hails from the same greater Kirinyaga District as Ms Karua.
The meeting between the President and Prime Minister might be significant before the House meets this afternoon, because the impasse over the two positions still has not been resolved.
Speaker Marende’s ruling last week, which included appointment of the House Business Committee, allowed parliamentary business to proceed, but it did not break the deadlock in the Cabinet over the important House positions.
Mr Kilonzo first entered Parliament in 2002 as a nominated MP on a Kanu ticket. He was elected for the first time by people of Mbooni in December 2007 elections after ousting former Cabinet minister Joseph Munyao.
Mr Githae was first elected to Parliament in 2002. He has always stood by Ms Karua. When she decided to pull out of the PNU to strengthen her Narc Kenya party, Mr Githae is one of the MPs in Central Kenya who followed her.
However, his departure from Ms Karua’s team became apparent when the former minister went to announce her resignation to her Gichugu constituents at Kianyaga Stadium.
Mr Githae was absent and he has never been seen in any other meeting Ms Karua has convened.
Mr Nguyai, a protégé of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, is serving his first term in Parliament.