QUOTE: Together with his deputy William Ruto, the President assembled a Cabinet of dull, uninspiring, incompetent and clueless men and women that have been hopping from one embarrassing misstep after another
THE BATTLE LINE
How Raila is taking advantage of Uhuru’s failures
By Ahmednasir Abdullahi
After taking a very low political profile during President’s Uhuru Kenyatta’s first year in power, Opposition CORD leader Raila Odinga has hit the political scene with a thunderous thud. Like a power typhoon he has landed, sweeping all on his way to power and leaving a trial of political destruction in his wake. He is back, bigger, brighter and bolder. The new Raila however is the old Raila with the same strength and weakness. A political self-seeker, he will go to any length to promote, hawk and sale brand Raila at any cost.
Raila as usual puts himself before anybody and anything. He considers himself the fulcrum around which everything political should rotate. For him, he is the epicenter of Kenya’s politics and its people and everything else is secondary and is dispensable. In the process, Raila has not only asserted himself as the sole challenging political force in opposition to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government but has cunningly disoriented and even probably torpedoed Uhuru’s administration in the short term. Raila is crying for a gladiatorial fight with Uhuru that will make the Roman warriors proud. Game on!
But haven’t we been there?
Since his return from America Raila has introduced into Kenya’s political lexicon what he calls a “structured national dialogue” with the Uhuru administration. In fact he is demanding and not asking for such a dialogue. The irony is that he seeks such a structure dialogue outside the parliamentary and political structures of the country. He envisages a continuous process of engagement between him and President in which national issues are discussed and solutions mutually agreed between him and the President. He sees this as a full time job that allows him to participate in formulating national policies. Despite his loud protestations Raila is desperate to share power through the most improbable scheme. Raila is in awe that one of his ingenious political fads is making such waves in the country.
Raila’s entire strategy is premised on a gamble that President Uhuru is in politically weak position and that he is pressing his case from a position of strength. He has also set the agenda for such dialogue. The topics to be discussed include corruption, electoral issues, security and national unity. Uhuru has been dismissive. Whereas, Uhuru is willing to discuss national issues with any Kenyan, the president and his advisers know Raila too well to be hoodwinked into an open ended process. They see Raila’s call for a national dialogue as an attempt to polarize the country along tribal lines, derail the President’s agenda and allow Raila to galvanize a tribal coalition for his next political adventure.
Raila on the other hands targets two specific political groups in his call for a national dialogue. First, he seeks to destroy his opponents both in his own party and in the CORD from competing with him in future political contest. It is actually this group that is his immediate target. The other opponent he targets is the government.
Raila like the proverbial phoenix has yet again arisen from the ashes. Few months ago, he was dead and buried. He could not even organize the long overdue elections of his party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). His supporters unleashed their characteristic signature tune of violence on the delegates when it was quite obvious that they will loss. MP Ababu Namwamba and Governor Hassan Joho were ready to take the mantle of the party. The election fiasco not only humbled him but also irredeemably destroyed his political stature. So we thought!
Then we had the simmering rage and rebellion in Luo land led by MP Dalmas Otieno. A political consensus was slowly emerging in Luo Nyanza that the community had overpaid its debt to the Odingas, and that it was time to chart a new political course. In other words Raila starred at rejection and retirement right in his eyes. He didn’t like what he saw. He then went to America. Three months later he triumphantly came back to the country where is viewed by his supporters as a messiah. He wasted little time in kicking off a political storm.
It is gross exaggeration to assert that Raila was reenergized and revitalized by his sabbatical in America. Conspiracy theorists especially those allied to the Uhuru administration wrongly assert that Raila was reprogramed and unleashed to lead a rebellion against the government. That Western powers and especially America and Great Britain seek to overthrow the regime.
A lot is made of a meeting attended by a motley of Raila’s most loyal sidekicks led by his principal cheerleader Prof Makau Mutua in Buffalo New York in which the participants agreed to form a group calling itself the Kenya Action Group. This group is alleged to be funded by wealthily liberals in both America and South Africa with a view to force Uhuru out of power.
To appreciate the unfolding scenarios in the country and contextualize the respective weakness and strength of the government and Raila, one needs to look at the short of rein of President Uhuru. It is here that one finds a rich treasure of why Raila has regained his macho, challenging a fairly besieged president and how Uhuru must fight back to reverse the temporal gains made by Raila in the last month. For Uhuru to neutralize Raila politically, he must address certain palpable weaknesses of his government. A sustained onslaught isn’t even necessary.
In analyzing the strength and weaknesses of two protagonists we must never lose sight of a very important factor. Raila deliberately ignores this important factor even though he is a live to its centrality in our political dynamics. The country is basically divided into two tribal blocs, each supporting to the tilt their leader. We have a sizeable minority in the middle. That middle comprises of a substantial numbers in Western Kenya, Northern Kenya, the Muslim community and other minorities.
Raila on one hand is supported by the same tribal alliance that failed to get him elected president in 2012. Uhuru has the same tribal alliance that got him elected in 2012. Neither has gained or lost any significant numbers. Both groups are intact. So Raila’s renewed agitation is not as a result of significant shift in his support base or similar reduction in that of the President.
It is more to do with political and strategic sizing up of the president and to see whether Uhuru will blink first. His new agitation must be appreciated as another instance of Raila’s historic enterprise in trouble making. It is not informed at all by a change in the fundamentals of the country’s politics in favor of Raila. It is here that conspiracy theorists wrongly bring in the wrong untenable prognosis of a “Kenyan spring” or Western attempt in regime change. No sensible foreign power can trust Raila with such delicate political enterprise. He is too mercurial to midwife such a program. The West is all too aware of the strength and weakness of Raila. They might have used him in the past to exert pressure on a Kenyan government, but he has never been their candidate at any one given time.
President Uhuru has singularly created all the misfortunes that had bedeviled his government with one exception. He has no role in the many terrorist attacks that befell the nation. But even in this regard, he takes huge blame in this refusal to make heads roll in the security sector. His unreasonable loyal support for the heads of security sectors has cost the president support and may have even emboldened terrorists to make repeated attacks in Kenya.
President’s Uhuru’s problem started with the caliber and competence of his Cabinet. Together with his deputy William Ruto, the president assembled a bunch of dull, uninspiring, incompetent and clueless men and women that have been hopping from one embarrassing misstep after another. They are excellent men and women in the cabinet who are doing a sterling job for Kenyans. Amina Mohamed, Anne Waiguru, Charity Ngilu and Joseph Kamau are ministers whose performance has given Kenyans hope that their government will deliver for them.
Then we have a category of average ministers. They are logging the hours but whom the majority of Kenyans have given hope on them. The majority numbers of Uhuru’s Cabinet are not fit for the job. Some – to borrow the famous words of the Board of Editors of the Economist magazine in describing the governance competence of the George Bush administration,– “are so shallow that they give the word shallow a new depth”. One of the enduring reasons why many Kenyans view Uhuru’s government negatively is the sheer incompetence of members of his Cabinet.
Uhuru wasted a lot of his political honeymoon fighting other peoples’ war and political minnows. The political capital a new president generates in his year in office is enormous. Use it wisely and you rip big. Squander it and you pay dearly. Uhuru has not used his political goodwill wisely. In his first year President Uhuru spent all his goodwill on unworthy causes.
He tried to emasculate the free Press but failed. He fought the Judicial Service Commission and the Judiciary and lost big. He tried to run local NGOs out of town through a new legislation, and lost it. In all these instances he comes out as a president who has a hangover from the KANU era and one supremely uncomfortable with the new constitutional dispensation. All these were unnecessary wars.
Despite the zeal and focus of the President on the economy, Kenyans have not noticed any meaningful gains in the sector. Matters have not been helped by the fact that key players in the sector are not up to task or are bedeviled by personal problems. The choice of Henry Rotich as Finance Secretary was wrong. He lacks the stature and hard political nose to succeed in the docket. He looks and acts like he is being micromanaged from another office. Another Key player, the Governor of the Central Bank is literally fighting for his very survival in a corruption case. He is too busy defending himself in court to devote any meaningful attention to the shilling and related issues.
Raila has hammered with devastating success President Uhuru’s handling of Muslims and members of the Somali community. It was instructive to note that Raila almost went straight to Eastleigh in Nairobi upon his return from America. The shutting down of Eastleigh and the endless security operations against members of the Somali community has been blamed on Uhuru. Raila went to the burial of Muslim cleric killed in mysterious circumstances in Mombasa to press his solidarity and pointed a finger at the government for the killing. This is one sector of the Kenyan society that Raila has specifically targeted with a view to get their support.
Powerful figures in the Office of the President in collaboration with the Ugandan intelligence services are believed to have cooked up the false rumors surrounding Governor Hassan Joho’s university degree. All these issues affecting the Muslim community have been used by Raila to paint Uhuru as someone who has an agenda against the community. That has stuck hard in certain quarters.
The refusal by Uhuru to fire heads of the security organs has baffled friends and foes alike. If there is one sector that cries for bold reform and radical change it is this sector. Despite this urgent national cry for action, Uhuru remains adamant that all is fine. And this is despite the weekly occurrence of terrorist attacks and runaway crimes in the country.
His refusal to shuffle the security deck has enormously damaged the President. When the commander-in-chief cannot act against his security captains, Kenyans either think the president does not appreciate the gravity of the issue or he is hostage to their narrow personal interest and survival. Either way, Uhuru came out as a weak Commander-in-Chief and in African societies, weak leaders don’t inspire great confidence. Many analysts see Raila’s resurgence as being informed by a similar reading of Uhuru’s weak stand on national security issues.
One of the great strengths of President Uhuru as a person is that he has never engaged or been linked with corruption scandals. That political virtue is priceless. But the expectation that he would hold members of his government to that golden standard has not been realized. Kenyans are not also happy with the excuses he habitually makes for those found wanting in his government. Take the example of the Attorney General Githu Muigai and the deplorable manner he conducted the Anglo-leasing case in London. The country lost Sh1.4 billion, and the AG still enjoys the confidence of the president. It is such indecisiveness that sends wrong signals Raila to press the government harder.
Uhuru’s foreign policy of looking East is premised in a wrong reading of both history and current affairs. First, the administration sees East to mean China. Secondly, it fails to appreciate that China apart from cheap labor really offers little compared to the West. Third, China corrupts our system and compromises our values. Four, China being a dictatorship takes more from Kenya than it gives. The President engages to Third World rhetoric than a hard-nosed cost benefit analysis in our relationship with China. It is time to rethink and reengage the West as our principal allies. History is important in this regard.
Uhuru needs to correct the many mistakes his administration needlessly committed in the past one year. He needs closure on all these simmering fronts. He needs to remedy the mistakes and move forward. Once he does that, he must engage in politics Kenyan style. Kenyan politics is a 24 hours job. Ask Raila! He must also press more the economy and deliver on that front. But a little effort and tactic must be directed at Raila. Despite his bravado and the rallies he is holding, Raila has very few cards to play. Uhuru need not overreact in dealing with Raila. He need not underestimate him either.
He must appreciate that Raila’s latest moves are not as a result of hard forward-thinking process. It is more of spontaneous impulses that he formulates on a day-to-day basis. So far he has charted the course till July 7th. No one in his corner including himself probably has any idea on what is his agenda the next day. One should however expect the most improbable from Raila. It is through impulsive schemes and unpredictable political summersaults that made Raila the awesome politician he is. That is the paradox that shaped his political career.
The other political design on the part of Raila’s current program is that it aims principally to scuttle the designs of those within CORD and ODM that have political designs and ambitions for the future. In fact it is these groups that Raila has in mind rather than causing the Uhuru administration lasting political damage. Raila has through his current political scheme united the Opposition not in challenging the Uhuru administration but ensuring that they rally around him. It is to his credit that he so easily neutralized men and women with burning ambition to support his latest political fad and forget about the rot in their parties and the remedies they have all along been working on.
For Uhuru to give Raila a technical knockout, he simply needs to deliver on his promises. Kenyans need food and jobs. They want to live in peace and with security. Raila is simply taking advantage of the failures of the government, and he can’t be blamed for that. The ball, in this contest, is in the President’s court and he too has all the cards.