Political strategists behind the scenes - Daily Nation

Political strategists behind the scenes

Saturday February 27 2010


Though he wrote a flurry of praising pieces on ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga ahead of the 2007 polls, few of his readers would have recognised him in the streets. Not until journalists captured the antics of an extremely agitated lawyer at the KICC poll tallying centre and he turned out to be Miguna Miguna.

After enactment of the National Accord, Mr Miguna wormed his way into the Prime Minister’s office as adviser on coalition affairs from where he has distinguished himself as Odinga’s hatchet man. Mr Miguna is one face in a galaxy of political advisers who have been pulling strings behind the two coalition partners since they shared power two years ago.

If one was to write a Kenyan version of Bob Woodward’s novel, All the President’s Men, you would call them the Principals’ Men. Their technical advice is believed to be behind some of the two principals’ political actions and pronouncements. Some of the advisers have been accused of misleading the chiefs.

Think tank

Prominent members of Mr Odinga’s think tank include communication strategist Salim Lone, former Planning minister Adhu Awiti, who is in charge of political affairs at the PM’s office, former chief of staff Caroli Omondi, veteran journalist Sarah Elderkin, literature scholar Odera Outa and former PSs Nehemiah Ng’eno and James Ongwae.

Law expert Mutakha Kangu is said to be among the PM’s advisers on constitutional matters while Dr Outa shapes his communication strategy. Mr Ng’eno is an adviser on governance while Mr Ongwae is charged with crafting a strategic plan for Mr Odinga’s office. University of Nairobi scholar, political scientist Peter Wanyande, is also mentioned as an adviser on politics together with Prof Okot Oyugi.

Mr Lone has been particularly singled out as the adviser behind the PM’s most dramatic decisions, a notion he describes as “wrong and bizarre”. He says those making the claim don’t know Mr Odinga. “He has a lot of self-confidence in his intuition on the best timing for a particular action and backs it with political advice.”

Some of the experts in Mr Odinga’s office are seconded by international agencies. For instance, Mr Hiroyuki Hino, the PM’s economic adviser, was brought in by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency following Mr Odinga’s request while Dr Outa  has been previously associated with the UNDP. Mr Hino, an expert in macroeconomics and international finance, at one point helped in efforts to reform the Central Bank of Kenya.

The other is Mr Alexander Alusa, a consultant and coordinator of the Climate Change Coordination Unit in Mr Odinga’s office. Mr Alusa is said to be the nerve centre in the PM’s push for Mau rehabilitation and the hand behind Mr Odinga’s speeches on climate change.

Given the high stakes in the coalition, President Kibaki’s PNU has an equally potent team of advisers. And if their contribution in the Naivasha law review talks is anything to go by, the PNU think tank can be said to be formidable. A political commentator familiar with President Kibaki’s operations says the PNU principal has six strands of advisory teams.

The First Family team led by Ms Judy Kibaki is the most influential. Ms Kibaki is said to have developed close links with the rich businessmen around the President popularly known as Muthaiga golfing group. “The most important advisory team is the family with enough influence to shift balance of thought, especially where it involves other competing teams,” says Prof Macharia Munene of USIU.

Then there is what he calls the Nick Wanjohi team comprising Prof Marete Marangu and Colonel (rtd) Dr Stephen Karua. Prof Wanjohi is the President’s private secretary. According the historian, Mr Wanjohi, who was central in President’s re-election campaign, is his chief adviser at State House. Prof Marangu was deputy executive director of the 2007 Kibaki Tena campaign outfit.

Another source says that although not directly attached to the State House group, President Kibaki constantly seeks out Kenya Revenue Authority chief Michael Waweru and Treasury PS Joseph Kinyua on issues that concern the economy.

Then there is the powerful Harambee House-based Muthaura group. It consists of Public Service head Francis Muthaura, former Cabinet ministers Raphael Tuju and Kivutha Kibwana. This team regularly uses Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua to publicise its position. Prof Kibwana is Mr Miguna’s antithesis. Mr Sam Mwale, Mr Muthaura’s deputy, and Ms Nancy Gitau, the director of Political Affairs at the Cabinet office, are also in the team.

The latest entrant is Prof Peter Kagwanja, a consultant for the Office of the President. The source said Prof Kagwanja, who led the PNU think tank in Naivasha, is “the intellectual who has been identified to manage the Kibaki succession”.