Just before Speaker Kenneth Marende ruled on President Kibaki’s controversial nominations last Thursday, an ODM politician had an assurance for Eldoret North MP William Ruto. (Read: Speaker declines to make ruling over nominees)
“Usijali mheshimiwa. Tutafanya kazi (Don’t worry sir. We’ll deal with it),” said Livestock assistant minister Aden Duale as he hurried into the chamber. The ODM politician is a close ally of Mr Ruto and deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.
By that time, the seemingly excited PNU spin doctors had trooped to town, making frantic calls to journalists with the hope of shaping the political discourse after the Speaker’s ruling.
Like Mr Duale, their main target was Prime Minister Raila Odinga who had caused a stalemate in Government by rejecting President Kibaki’s nominees to the key positions of Chief Justice, Attorney-General, Director of Public Prosecution and Controller of Budget.
Apparently, the stalemate presented politicians with various individual and collective grievances against Mr Odinga with ammunition to fire at him.
It also brought to the fore intrigues touching on the Kibaki succession, with Mr Odinga’s opponents latching at any opportunity to prod him to war in a bid to reduce his stature and political fortunes.
“Despite the merits of his argument about the CJ’s appointment, Tinga (Mr Odinga) set himself up and gave his enemies fodder with which to fight him,” says Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo.
According to Mr Kilonzo, the debate in Parliament turned out to be a political contest with Mr Odinga as the “common enemy”. He added: “Let us not be naïve. We are in a fresh political contest.”
Masinde Muliro University lecturer Egara Kabaji says the desire to “tame” Mr Odinga has overshadowed critical debates in government.
“His opponents are pre-occupied with coming up with new strategies on how to arrest this monster called Raila at the expense of articulating real issues,” he said.
Leading the onslaught against the Prime Minister in the House was Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi (Energy) and Njeru Githae (Nairobi Metropolitan).
However, operatives around the PM described Mr Kenyatta and Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura as the “nerve centre” of the anti-Raila campaign.
The other key participant is Mr Ruto who has fallen out with Mr Odinga over the International Criminal Court intervention in Kenya and restoration of the Mau water tower.
The three are among individuals who may be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in connection with the post-election violence.
Mr Odinga’s allies say the campaign is mainly aimed at shielding the three from the ICC intervention and stop the PM from succeeding President Kibaki after next year’s elections.
Mr Musyoka has been at the centre of diplomatic efforts to persuade the world to support Kenya’s bid to defer the ICC case for a year while Mr Odinga supports the prosecutions.
The PNU strategy, according to the Raila camp, is to enable them to conduct a snap election that would probably see Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto seize power.
“The idea is driven by the notion that it would be difficult for the ICC to prosecute people occupying such high-level positions in government,” said a member of Mr Odinga’s inner circle.
He said that controversial nominations of individuals to the powerful position of Chief Justice and the extension of the term of the Director of Intelligence were part of a PNU strategy to seize control of key institutions likely to be involved in the next political transition, and ICC investigations.
Mr Musyoka is seen to be positioning himself to win sympathy from Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin voting blocs if the two are indicted by the ICC.
Though the next election is more than a year away, Prof Chris Wanjala of the University of Nairobi says Mr Odinga’s opponents are spending a lot of time laying out strategies around him. “He is the dynamo around which our politics revolve and elicits both love and fear,” says the literature scholar.
“By virtue of his character and style, he determines our politics and our political discourses,” added Prof Kabaji. He identified strategy as Mr Odinga’s greatest asset.
“He is extremely strategic. His opponents always get things wrong because they have no strategy. He is also imprisoned by a specific ideology and is firmly in control of thinking processes of a given section of society.”
According to Prof Wanjala, Mr Odinga has the undaunted vision of ruling this country. He has a zeal which is unusual and a burning desire to be President in a manner that no other Kenyan politician does.
But Dr Ngari Githuku, an Odinga critic, argues that the PM has “recklessly stepped on many peoples’ toes” and made his presidential bid difficult. He also argues that Mr Odinga is “prone to miscalculations”.
“The worst political path taken by Raila in his chequered political path has been the one to Ivory Coast where it had been hoped that he would shine and showcase himself as the most viable candidate for the presidency but he blundered by being partisan and was rejected.”
Prof Kabaji identifies President Kibaki, Mr Musyoka, former President Daniel arap Moi, Mr Kenyatta, Mr Ruto and Narc Kenya chairperson Martha Karua as Mr Odinga’s key opponents. Each of them has some grievance or an axe to grind with Mr Odinga in one way or the other.
For example, former President Moi has never forgiven Mr Odinga for scuttling his 2002 succession plan by refusing to support Mr Kenyatta, his hand-picked successor.
Mr Odinga’s dramatic pullout from Kanu in the run-up to the election, saw the party routed out of power, considerably injuring Mr Moi’s stature.
On the other hand, Mr Kenyatta blames Mr Odinga for blocking him from seizing the presidency in the 2002 polls. Likewise, Mr Musyoka once told the Sunday Nation that had Mr Odinga not “misled” the Kalenjin bloc in the last election, he (Mr Musyoka) would have been elected President.
And no doubt, Mr Odinga has been the greatest nightmare of the Kibaki presidency. He led the campaign against President Kibaki after the 2007 election when his ODM party rejected the results and refused to go to court.
They finally grudging hammered out a power-sharing deal. The post-election violence, which was partly blamed on President Kibaki, has been a disturbing blot on his legacy.
Then there is the small matter of the ICC intervention in Kenya which might lead to the prosecution of his key lieutenants such as Mr Kenyatta and Mr Muthura for crimes against humanity.
Prof Kabaji says it is in Ms Karua political interest to oppose Mr Odinga, though her constituency –what he calls the critical thinking mass – is small.
Ms Karua, who has declared interest in the presidency, was one of President Kibaki’s strongest defenders against Mr Odinga in the last election.
Prof Wanjala thinks that Mr Odinga elicits fear among “establishment” politicians because of his parentage and ability to connect with the masses.
“He is a chip off the old block. He is the son of Jaramogi Oginga who scared the Kenyan settlers and the people who had been brought up on English liberalism to their skins.”
He argues that unlike his detractors who only worry about personality in politics, Mr Odinga “honestly and candidly deals with historical and contemporary questions that concern all of us without fear of losing votes”.
Out of place
Mr Salim Lone, a friend and adviser of the Prime Minister, says the notion that Mr Odinga has created so many enemies is out of place.
“He has more friends than any Kenyan I know. If that were not the case, the opinion polls which show him leading would show something different.” Mr Lone said the opposition to Mr Odinga was “perfectly normal.”
“In any political competition, opponents will always unite to build a sufficient force against the front-runner and try to knock him down,” he said.
He pointed out that during President Moi’s tenure, leading politicians ganged up against him because he was the formidable force.
Assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria said the debate in Parliament over the controversial nominations, was about the two principals.
“PNU politicians wanted to prevent the President from being embarrassed or ridiculed by ensuring that his nominees pass through Parliament while the ODM group wanted to make sure the Prime minister is not undermined.”