News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news


Ruling coalition on verge of collapse

Barely eight months in office, the honeymoon seems to be over for the 15 political parties that form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). The parties, which came together ostensibly to dislodge KANU from power, have since failed to agree on a number of issues.
Zachary Ochieng

A simmering discontent in the ruling coalition, which was brought to bear soon after president Mwai Kibaki announced his cabinet early January, seems to acquire new dimensions by the day.

Following the cabinet appointments, a section of MPs allied to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - one of the leading parties in the coalition - accused the president of reneging on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that provided for equal sharing of cabinet posts between LDP and the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) - another major party in the 15 member coalition.

But when the list was finally read out, it emerged that the appointments favoured NAK. The LDP particularly claimed that the appointments favoured those coming from the president's Central province while neglecting other areas. "Any right thinking person can see that the appointments have favoured a particular community", claimed Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang, who is aligned to the LDP.

The subsequent appointments of permanent secretaries and parastatal heads were also met with severe criticism. Besides, being seen as favouring Kibaki's Mount Kenya region, most of the appointees were well past retirement age.

Critics argued that the government would never achieve its goal of creating 500,000 jobs a year when it continues employing old guards at the expense of young qualified Kenyans. But predictably, the LDP faction again felt shortchanged.

Despite a series of meetings to resolve the stalemate within the two factions, an aura of suspicion still pervades the nascent alliance. Currently, the coalition is embroiled in a seemingly endless tussle over the proposed expansion of the eight -member summit - the party's supreme organ - by an additional 34 members.

Those opposed to it see this as an attempt to weaken the LDP, which has the most active members. They comprise Public Works and Housing minister Raila Odinga, Education minister George Saitoti, Foreign Affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka and Home Affairs minister Moody Awori, who is also the summit chairman.

The NAK wing is represented by Health Minister Charity Ngilu, Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa and Vice -President Kijana Wamalwa. Before his election as president, Kibaki was also a member of the summit, representing the NAK wing.

With his exit, LDP was left with four members and NAK three. A cabinet meeting has since recommended the inclusion of eight more members, who are yet to be named. But proponents of the expansion argue that the organ will be more representative and acquire a national outlook capable of articulating the party's political agenda. They envisage representation of other provinces such as North Eastern, Nyanza and Coast, hitherto not represented at the summit.

The tussle comes ahead of the second round of the National Constitutional Conference slated for later this month. The upshot of this is that like the first round of the conference, the ruling party is going to Bomas of Kenya - the venue of the meeting as a divided house.

It is instructive that during the Bomas I, NARC did not agree on a number of issues, particularly the creation of the post of an executive prime minister in the new constitution.

Whereas the LDP faction was for the office of an executive Prime Minister, the NAK wing was strongly against it, arguing that its creation would render the president powerless. "You cannot expect a president popularly elected to cede powers to an executive Prime Minister who is not elected by the majority", argued Robinson Githae, Assistant Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

But specifically, NAK's opposition is based on the premise that the post goes to the powerful Roads and Public Works minister Raila Odinga, who is allied to the LDP, as per the MOU. "I support Raila for the premier's post, but it should be non-executive to avoid conflict between the president and his Vice-President who is the leader of government business", says Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, who is allied to NAK.

While a number of KANU and NARC MPs have been openly campaigning for Odinga, he has since distanced himself saying the post does not belong to an individual but its creation should be judged on its importance for posterity. "I have never campaigned for that post. It is my party that floated my name as per the pre-election MOU. In any case, it should not be seen that the post is being created for Raila Odinga", he maintained.

A cabinet sub-committee appointed by President Kibaki to resolve the dispute, and which was largely dominated by NAK, finally settled for a non-executive Prime Minister, based on the Tanzanian model. According to this arrangement, the president appoints the Prime Minister and retains the powers to fire him. The appointment, however, has to be ratified by parliament. The Prime Minister is subordinate to the Vice-President but remains the leader of Government business in parliament.

While reacting to this development, LDP MPs dismissed the creation of the post, arguing that the cabinet has no business dealing with party issues.

Political pundits now argue that with current divisions among the party's rank and file, NARC may not be able to push its own agenda at the conference. To other observers, the conference may be reduced to a mere show down between LDP and NAK, following political horse -trading that has been going on since the conference was adjourned two months ago.

According to Odinga, the dispute can only be solved if the MOU, which created the coalition between LDP and NARC is followed. In the MOU, Kibaki was named the presidential candidate, Wamalwa Vice-President, Odinga as the Prime Minister, Musyoka as Deputy Vice-President and Ngilu and Saitoti as Deputy Prime ministers. Save for the presidency and vice presidency, the seats were to be created under a new constitution.

Divisions within the coalition were further exacerbated by calls by summit member Kirwa and Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi on disenchanted LDP members to quit and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate. Said Kirwa: "None of the political parties in the coalition is superior. We have a secret weapon which we are going to use against the rebels".

But in a rejoinder, Odinga quipped: "Those who are in the forefront criticizing the MOU were themselves the beneficiaries but didn't play any key role to realize their current positions in the government".

As the crisis persists, Odinga has called for calm especially among his LDP counterparts. Says he: "It is at a time of crisis like this that one is actually supposed to put leadership and patience in practice, which is now expected of those of us affiliated to the LDP faction".

Another bone of contention has been persistent calls by NAK MPs for the dissolution of individual parties, an idea that LDP MPs are hesitant to buy. Odinga - a key player in LDP - while supporting the dissolution of parties - maintains that the process does not need to be rushed but should come gradually.

With the cabinet resolving that parties dissolve by December 31, there is no gainsaying that battle lines have been drawn, as LDP MPs would not hear of it.

It is not lost to observers that the rifts in the coalition are bound to widen as soon as Bomas reconvenes. Incidentally, LDP made use of the break from the conference to woo the opposition KANU MPs to its side. Notably, a section of Luhya and Kalenjin MPs initially opposed to the creation of the Executive Prime Minister's post in the new constitution have taken an about turn and are now supporting it fully.

But as the wrangles within the party continue unabated, the spotlight is on Awori, who claims that the summit has been working behind the scenes to ensure NARC remains united.

However, with the intensity of the wrangles and the offer of a lame duck premiership, the unity within the coalition may remain a pipe dream, to the disillusionment of the voters, who may ultimately be forced to go back to the polls.

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor