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Kibaki’s role in succession battle exposes fault lines in coalition

Saturday January 29 2011

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the signing of the National Accord that established the coalition government between PNU and ODM. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the signing of the National Accord that established the coalition government between PNU and ODM. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT 

By MURITHI MUTIGA [email protected]

In December 2010 opinion polls indicated President Kibaki enjoyed his highest approval rating since the early months of 2003.

A Synovate survey found that 79 per cent of those polled were happy with the President’s performance, putting him two percentage points above the 77 per cent who were happy with PM Raila Odinga.

The President at the time was riding a crest of popularity following the endorsement of the new Constitution. Most Kenyans were happy that relations between him and the PM had improved following the rocky first two years of the coalition.

That situation has changed dramatically over the last month due to the resumption of wrangles within the coalition. President Kibaki has been sucked into the 2012 succession battle, which is linked to the legal process unfolding at The Hague where some of the key players, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, may face trial.

“Nobody can dispute the fact that President Kibaki has done very well on the economic front,” says Joseph Munyao, founding secretary-general of the Democratic Party and a long-time Kibaki ally. “The fact that the Constitution was endorsed under his watch is a big plus. But the Constitution is linked to the issue of respecting international treaties, and the Rome Statute is part of that.

Behaves contrary

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“President Kibaki will be judged harshly if he opposes the statute or behaves contrary to its spirit. The way the government is behaving now, wasting finances to send ambassadors all over the continent is embarrassing. Kibaki must know this is against the wishes of Kenyans.”

The polling data supports the contention that a majority of Kenyans support an international judicial process to try those suspected of being behind the violence.

According to Synovate, 60 per cent of those polled in its last survey indicated a preference for trials at The Hague.

Only 18 per cent said they wanted local trials, an option favoured by President Kibaki and the PNU wing of the governing coalition.

Another 14 per cent of those interviewed said they did not want any action taken against the suspects, while 9 per cent wanted those responsible for bungling the elections to be tried.

Why President Kibaki has cast his lot with those opposed to the ICC process divides opinion. But a close ally, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the inclusion of Public Service head Francis Muthaura in the Ocampo Six was the tipping point.

He said the possibility that Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta would feature among the suspects had been well known for nearly a year, yet the government had largely cooperated with investigators.

But after chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo revealed in a briefing at Harambee House that Mr Muthaura was on his list, State House turned against the ICC option.

The decision to warm up to MPs allied to Mr Ruto as Mr Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta sought to build an anti-ICC alliance appears to have arisen from State House opposition to the process at The Hague.

But by becoming an active player and openly throwing his lot in the succession battle with the group around the axis of politicians including Mr Kenyatta, Mr Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka, there is a danger Mr Kibaki might taint his legacy.

Political analyst Tom Wolf says this will not be the issue uppermost on Mr Kibaki’s mind as he decides in which direction to steer the government in the next two years.

“Until they are in their coffin, most politicians are preoccupied with issues of the moment rather than their legacy. Certainly it would be nice to know when you breathe your last that people liked you, but when he takes the oath of office, the most taxing responsibility the politician has is to fulfil their obligations and not worry what biographers will write about them 100 years after they are dead.”

Yet insiders in State House say the President had hoped the post-referendum period would turn out differently. He had hoped to build on his national popularity after the endorsement of the Constitution to burnish his reputation which had been sullied by the post-election violence.

There was talk of a book deal and establishment of a presidential library, and a team was constituted to work on the transition and try and influence the way the President’s time in office would be viewed.

Those plans have now taken a back seat to the political realignments triggered by the December 15 release of the ICC list of suspects.

The apparently unilateral appointment of nominees to the Judiciary last Friday was seen as evidence of the extent of discord that exists in the coalition, and this has raised the thorny question of whether the President and PM will work together to implement the Constitution.