IS THE OPPOSITION CORD UP TO MUSTER?

Is the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) or, the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) of Raila Odinga, playing its rightful role as an effective Opposition in and out of Parliament?

In advanced democracies all over the world, the Opposition is supposed to scrutinize the work of the Government in a responsible and constructive way.

Canada’s definition is that the Opposition is supposed “to oppose the Government by criticizing Government policies, suggesting alternatives and keeping the public informed about issues relating to Government administration.” The key words here are suggesting alternatives.

Kenya, as a member of the Commonwealth, adheres to many of the democratic practices and traditions of its older partners in the family of nations.

However, until the one-party system of Government ended in December 1991, there was no official opposition in the country for a long period of our history.

And although Jaramogi Oginga Odinga is recognized as the “doyen of opposition” due to his activism during the authoritarian days of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, it was Mwai Kibaki and his Democratic Party who embodied the true meaning of Official Opposition in Parliament after his second presidential defeat in 1997.

In 1998, he formed a Shadow Cabinet – in line with the Westminster traditions – to keep Moi’s Government in check. Kibaki appointed Shadow Ministers to correspond with Government Ministers and tasked them to advise him on matters in their dockets and to develop alternative policies to await an opportunity to govern.

That practice continued even after Kibaki became President in 2003. Six months after losing the presidential polls to the NARC leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, at that time KANU Chairman, appointed his Shadow Cabinet in Parliament with a declaration that “we are not going to oppose for the sake of opposing but we are here to offer Kenyans an alternative on how their country should be run.”

He chose Bonaya Godana, a former Minister as his deputy, and picked some of KANU’s most prominent diehards as Shadow Ministers. His role in the opposition technically ended in 2007 when he dropped out of the presidential race to support Kibaki’s presidential bid.

It was assumed that after losing to Kibaki in 2007, Raila Odinga would put in place a Shadow Cabinet to hold the Government to account. That did not happen. Instead, and after much violence and bickering over the election results, ODM joyfully joined the winner to form a Government of National Unity. For five years, therefore, Kenya did not have an Official Opposition.

Come 2013 and there was another ODM loss.

One year down the line, CORD –  the Coalition that brings together ODM, the Wiper Democratic Party and Ford Kenya – has not yet mastered the confidence to form a Shadow Cabinet. An attempt to cobble one last September failed to materialize because of leadership wrangles in the Coalition’s parliamentary group.

In Strasbourg, Germany, in 2010, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, declared that an effective opposition is an “essential part of a well-functioning democracy”. The absence of a strong Opposition and a Shadow Cabinet in Kenya is, therefore, bad for good governance.

Although ODM boasts of keeping Uhuru’s Government on its toes, the truth is that a leadership fragmentation in Parliament has not provided a conducive environment to allow the Opposition play a more dynamic role as a Government watchdog.

Because of its weak and rudderless leadership in the National Assembly, CORD has been unable to engage the ruling class in a vigorous and coherent way. Outside Parliament, its reactions to Government deeds have been haphazard, too far between and uncoordinated. Too often, it is difficult to know who is speaking on behalf of the party and who is offering personal opinion on any given issue.

This brings me to ODM’s reaction to Uhuru’s State of the Union address a few days ago. Although the response was prompt and scathing, it would have been more effective if it had been issued under the umbrella of CORD instead of ODM. In the eyes of Kenyans, CORD not ODM, is the government-in-waiting, so to speak. It is unfortunate, for example, that the voice of Kalonzo Musyoka as leader of Wiper – the second largest group in the Coalition – has not been heard on many of the critical issues of the day.

Although in the party response the acting ODM leader, Senator Anyang Nyong’o blamed the Government for everything under the sun, he did not offer any alternatives to the challenges facing the country. A credible opposition does not just criticize; it proposes alternatives of what it thinks is the right way to go in dealing with national challenges.

Nyong’o should also have remembered that Raila Odinga was the Prime Minister of Kenya for five years before the Jubilee government came to power. Most of the issues ODM raised in its response were alive when the ODM leader was in government. He had an opportunity to correct them but he didn’t.

True, the level of insecurity in the country has gone up due to hyped terrorist activities in recent months but this menace has been with us for decades, so has corruption, poverty and tribalism among many of our problems. This government inherited them from previous Administrations and is striving studiously to deal with them.

To blame the one-year old Jubilee Government for inaction is a demonstration of dishonesty.

We all know that ODM has not yet recovered from the presidential loss of 2013 but unleashing feeble jabs at the Jubilee Government is not the way we expect the Opposition to behave.

My free advice to ODM is: criticize constructively and suggest alternative causes of action but don’t criticize for the sake of it. After all, the challenges facing our country need the collective effort of all Kenyans include the Opposition.

And that is my say.

From 2

ON THE MCAs’ CAR GRANT, I DISAGREE WITH MY PRESIDENT

When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a 20 percent personal pay cut, Kenyans’ reaction was a mixed bag of conflicting opinions. There are those who looked at it as a quantum leap in our commitment to deal ferociously with the burgeoning wage bill now blamed for many of the country’s social and economic woes. Then there are those who rubbished it as a populist symbolic gesture incapable of adding value to efforts of rationalizing public expenditure.

I am one of those who supported the President, believing in the saying of Tao-Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I felt the gesture by the President, the Deputy President and the Cabinet, was what the country needed to re-animate our conscience and re-engineer our priorities.

As intended, the President’s modest salary cut-back has triggered a national debate on a variety of issues linked to the wage bill, among them proposals for a constitutional change to slice the number of elected and nominated representatives, ways to cut or end wastage, efforts to end corruption in the public sector, the future of the provincial administration and even how our government officials travel and earn allowances.

The President was spot-on and was on the right track even as he kicked off a countrywide campaign to seek people’s views on the matter. However last Friday, he floundered.

My heart sank when he gave in to pressure from Members of the County Assemblies (MCAs) on the matter of car grants.

More than 2,000 MCAs who turned up for a retreat in Mombasa jumped up and down like kids scrambling for lollipops when the President – after much haranguing about the government’s inability to meet their demands – talked about equality in leadership and how “no leader is bigger than the other” and that the MCAs deserved car grants in the same way as MPs.

Until last Friday, the government had dilly-dallied on the matter citing financial distress, and Uhuru himself had avoided the subject like plague. But his categorical statement – later clarified by the State House Spokesman, Manoah Esipisu – was the clearest sign that the government was buckling down to political machinations by the overrated MCAs.

Manoah’s clarification was not that Uhuru did not make the promise but that his statement “…was not a directive…The President made it clear that austerity must continue to be observed.”

If that was the case why make such a statement in the first place?

I got the impression the President was playing politics with our money. He chose political expediency over common interests.

That low-level campaign for 2017 has started is not a secret, but road-side declarations – that are against the Constitution – intended to attract political support so early in the day should be avoided.

Uhuru’s remarks, in my opinion, washed away most of the goodwill people had started to build towards the noble goal of mowing down the monstrous wage bill now strangling each and every one of the 40 million Kenyans.

As I have said here before, none of our elected or nominated leaders deserve a penny more than what they are already getting. In fact, we should be thinking of ways to cut down on their extravagant spending than thinking to give them more perks. And who says their demands will stop there. This story is like that of the proverbial camel.

Now that their car grants are almost guaranteed, their next thrust will be over their other long-standing demands: two personal bodyguards each, personal assistants, ward managers, drivers, office guards and messengers. They will push for these freebies more vigorously now than ever before because they have been told all leaders are equal and deserve everything others are getting regardless of place on the pecking order.

Precarious as our fiscal position is, every penny must be spent wisely from now on so that we can cut down the wage bill at the earliest possible period and allow Kenyans to enjoy the level of development promised them by the Constitution and the Jubilee Manifesto.

And that is my say.

RAILA HAS SO FAR DEMONSTRATED STATESMANSHIP ABROAD

For most of the past week, the social media was awash with reports that the next (prosecution) witness at the ongoing ICC trial of Deputy President William Ruto and former Radio journalist Joshua Sang was to be a high-ranking Kenyan politician.

A finger was quickly pointed at the CORD leader Raila Odinga who, coincidentally, was leaving Kenya for a lecture tour of the United States, at about the same time as the reports were trending on the internet.

The trial of Ruto and Sang, who are facing charges against humanity has been characterized by incessant drama of missing witnesses, allegations of influence peddling, purported lies and excusal and deferral motions, since it started last September.

It has also been surrounded by rumours and innuendos galore.  So, consumers of the alternative media were excited when news circulated that a senior Kenyan leader was scheduled to be the 14 prosecution witness. The news also tickled fresh fascination in a case whose public interest has waned considerably.

Adding more fuel to the speculation was the decision of the Hague-based court to abruptly adjourn hearings – for two weeks up to March 31 – without giving reasons, a move that was interpreted by some as a temporary lull before the main storm of evidence was heard from the so-called high-profile witness.

Hours before departing, Raila had announced he was taking a month-long break from politics to tour the United States for a series of presentations and even appointed his close ally, Anyang Nyongo, as interim leader of the party during his absence.

It is obvious now that the reports linking Raila’s absence to the 2007 post-election violence case was the work of shadowy opposition political spin doctors.

That is why I was pleasantly relieved to see Raila on the podium of the Boston University, Massachusetts, a few days later, delivering a key-note address on the failures, successes and challenges of African States. He is a guest of the Africa Presidential Centre, a forum for African leaders to share views on democratization and free market reforms in the Continent.

As I watched the speech on You Tube, I expected fireworks from the ardent critic of the Jubilee Government on the hot topics back home. I expected to hear the usual whining and grumbling about “stolen elections” and “corrupt judiciary” and about the economic challenges presently facing the Government. I was even expecting pinprick attacks on the persons of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. But there was none of that.

What I heard from the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was a carefully framed, tactfully delivered speech that was devoid of any brinkmanship or hatred. He was ebullient, calm and jocular and, I must say, statesmanlike. He maintained his cool even when a Kenyan student David Mundia accused him of remaining silent on the ICC issue because “you want to run in (the next) elections”.

On that the CORD leader said he had nothing against the President and the Deputy President. “They may even be innocent for what we know – but what we are saying is that what happened (that led the two to the ICC) needs to be brought to an end…” He reiterated what he has said many times before that he had opposed the proposal to send the matter to the ICC but colleagues in Parliament had overruled him.

In his previous visits overseas, especially after the violence-ridden 2007 elections, Raila often ranted about stolen elections. It was only during a visit to Washington DC last October when he said he had put the election results behind him and was now focussing on ensuring the effective implementation of the Constitution. That is the position he took when delivering his non-combative speech at Boston University this past week.

He even got a round of applause when he said his decision to accept the Supreme Court judgement  – “though we didn’t agree with it” – was based on national and not personal interests.

Raila’s performance was mature, prudent and nationalistic.  It is too early, however, to say whether he will stay away from the government-bashing frenzy that he is so fond of at home.

During an interview a day later, Raila described the ICC rumours as “absolute lies.”

That Raila has very passionate supporters among Kenyans in the Diaspora is not a matter of argument. It is possible that some of these fanatical supporters could provoke him into making divisive remarks that could polarize our citizens in the Diaspora. In any case, he will need every Diaspora vote as he embarks on his fourth bid for the presidency.

I have always maintained that Kenyans who go abroad and choose to wash their dirty linen in public are not only impudent but unpatriotic.

And that is my say.

Is there anyone out there plotting to kill devolution?

This is the question many Kenyans must be asking themselves. Politicians of all shades have been talking about secret plans to rid the country of its most revolutionary political concept. Governors and Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) are accusing MPs; the opposition is blaming the ruling Coalition and Senators are pointing a finger at their colleagues across the street as perpetrators of this diabolical scheme.

This is surprising because devolution – a system in which national resources are trickled down to the lowest ranks – is entrenched in the Constitution, the same Constitution which was passed overwhelmingly by Kenyans. The Government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to implementing this system to the letter. The people of Kenya are fully behind it.

And by the way, devolution cannot be trashed without Kenyans going through a referendum.

But listening to speakers at the Governor’s Conference at the Bomas of Kenya last Friday one would think the system of devolution was about to collapse.

Leaders who variously branded themselves “custodians of devolution”, “guardians of devolution” and even “founding fathers and mothers of devolution” tried to convince Kenyans that only THEY were defenders of the system and that everyone else was the enemy.

A very educated Governor Alfred Mutua of Machakos went a mile farther to warn that it was either “devolution or revolution.” What a careless talk from such an enlightened person. If it had been in the days of one-party dictatorship, the diminutive action-packed County Executive would now be eating beans at Kamiti.

The basis of the first Annual Governors’ Forum was to review progress made by Counties during the first year of devolution and to chart the way forward, but the meeting turned out to be an orgy of diatribe against those, not so much as opponents of devolution, but critics of the gluttonous ways in which Governors were running their mini-governments.

Even when a Governor was impeached not too long ago on allegations of abuse of office, County leaders alleged a scheme to kill devolution.

To me, the Governors’ Forum was nothing but a meeting of like-minded individuals – birds of the same feathers, so to speak – out to defend a turf they felt was under threat. They gathered to protect the title of “Your Excellency” and the right to fly a national flag on their car bonnets. They gathered to demand an increase of the County budget from 15 to 45 percent. They gathered to rally support against the Senate-proposed County Boards intended to budget and plan development in Counties. And they gathered to fight for car grants and free mortgages for MCAs.

Thus, the Governors’ Forum had nothing to do with reviewing progress and charting the way forward. It was a selfish attempt at promoting self-aggrandizement. The speeches, to say the least, were vitriolic and the speakers themselves boastful and self-centered.

Most of the so-called resolutions – passed by a show of hands – had no substance. They were hurriedly thought out and pedestrian. To resolve that “there will be unity of the devolution family” and that “a committee would be formed to protect devolution” is a sign of myopia.

In my opinion, the Forum was a complete waste of time and money. We pay our County leaders handsomely so that they can devote time to solving the many problems facing our people. We don’t pay them to engage in posturing, grandstanding or political demagoguery.

The only thing we often hear from them is a charade of demands for money and privileges. It is my view that Governors, their Deputies, Speakers and MCAs do not deserve a single cent more over what they presently earn. Instead of demanding more perks, they should first submit themselves to the relevant Parliamentary Committees and account for what they were granted.

In these difficult times when the Government is struggling to cut the wage bill, our County leaders must show restrain and desist from endless demands for more money and privileges.

Finally, that the County officials at Bomas accepted freebies from a company intending to influence them into registering as members of a private retirement programme says a lot about the integrity of our leaders. Waswahili wanasema: hakuna cha bure!

And that is my say.

It finally happened.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which rose from the ashes of a bitter leadership division between Raila Amolo Odinga and Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka leading to the collapse of the Orange Democratic Party – Kenya (ODM-K) in 2007, has itself become a victim of internal wrangles that threatens its complete disintegration.

Whether or not the party will hold repeat elections, ODM will never be the same again. Seeds of serious dissent have already been planted. What is awaited is germination and harvest and these, I predict, will happen in the coming years when the faction opposed to Raila will walk away either into the hands of the ruling Jubilee Coalition or into the belly of yet another opposition coalition.

The disruptive almost violent scenes at Kasarani Sports Center on Friday were a great embarrassment and a big personal disappointment for Raila who had hoped to put together a new team of officials in preparation for a fourth stab at the presidency four years from now. That disappointment was clear during a press conference immediately after the disarray when a forlorn Raila described the abortion as a shameful act of cowardice organized by enemies of the party.

Some almost immediately pointed a finger at the ruling Jubilee Coalition. No evidence has been adduced to support the position that Jubilee participated in any way in organizing or funding the disruption. What the public knows is that goons from within the party and most likely mobilized by some active party officials raided the polling area and destroyed ballot boxes and papers. The people are well-known to ODM since they are familiar faces in party rallies.

Although Raila announced there would be a probe to find out who was behind the disruption, speculation was rife that Raila himself could have been behind the mayhem in a move to deny his opponents – the Ababu Namwamba/Ali Joho/Nanok axis – a chance to take over the party leadership. After all, he had his own line-up of preferred candidates that he wanted elected.

But equally important was the strong message the aborted polls sent to everyone within and without the country: that Kenyans cannot hold peaceful elections of any kind, a seriously dubious reputation for a country struggling to prove its membership in the league of democratically mature nations. That the collapse of the elections was a step back in internal party democracy in Kenya cannot be over emphasised.

For weeks Kenya was treated to a highly animated campaign by factions of what is undoubtedly the largest opposition party in Kenya. The frequency and volume  of leading personalities forced to peel out of the polls to give way to Raila’s preferred candidates were an early sign of troubles ahead. Closer to the polls, it became clear that Raila’s opponents were headed for victory by the way they were receiving support across the country.

It did not help much when Raila tried to shift away from his chosen team led by Dr. Agnes Zani and assured the membership of his commitment to free and fair elections.  By that time the damage was already done.

Personally, I don’t see how a repeat exercise, as proposed by the party leadership, could produce any different results from what was about to happen at Kasarani before the troubles. That is why the party should be advised to save money by abandoning the exercise altogether and recognizing the “vote by acclamation” that was so obviously demonstrated by the delegates.

As names of candidates were being read, Namwamba’s group received a thunderous applause while candidates associated with Raila were booed. That clearly indicated the overall preference of the close to 3,000 delegates attending the National Delegates Conference.

Considering the cost of holding such conferences in the past and factoring inflation, ODM must have “wasted” between 20 to 30 million shillings for an event that ended in chaos. That is why I think the party leader should accept “defeat” and move on with the new team instead of repeating the polls, wasting money and risking yet another round of embarrassment. Democracy would still be served.

And that is my say.