Monday, April 7, 2008

Heartbreak for Kenyans as another weekend passes and still no Cabinet

PNU hardliners have told bandit President Kibaki he risks being "in the dark" internationally and "out of touch" locally if he relinquishes the Foreign Affairs and Local Government dockets to ODM.

And with that, two more ministries suddenly assumed strategic importance at the weekend. If these are added to Finance and Internal Security, which ODM have pointedly been told are the President’s turf, then it begins to get clearer why in spite of yesterday’s public show of camaraderie between Kibaki and Raila Odinga, there is still no Cabinet.

For Kenyans, it was another day of heartbreak for thousands who remained glued to their TV sets waiting for the proverbial white smoke.

Even though the two principals announced they would re-converge today to make another attempt, it remains unclear what miracle they will use to navigate the increasingly thorny issue of portfolio balance.

ODM was last night on the racks, literally. First, it let go of Finance and Internal Security after an attempt to pair the two for equal distribution with PNU failed. This was on the understanding that it would get Foreign Affairs, Local Government, Energy and Transport.

But on a weekend of flying brickbats and hard tackles by both sides, someone added Foreign Affairs and Local Government to the list of PNU’s "you-can’t-touch" ministries, forcing back to the table an issue that had been put to rest.

Dr Wilfred Machage, the Kuria (PNU) MP and East African Community minister, told The Standard: "We can’t let go of Foreign Affairs and Local Government. You can’t cut off the President internationally and also from the grassroots. The Foreign minister represents the President in international fora, while councils are an important link with the grassroots."

With ODM viewing itself as having ceded too much ground, this new tussle over key ministries is likely to deepen the controversy around portfolio balance and further delay the naming of a new Cabinet.

Last night, there was an outpouring of outrage and even fear due to the uneasy sense of what the future held. The international community must have also looked on bewildered.

The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) said the failure by Kibaki and Raila to name a Cabinet was an indication that there were serious fundamental problems in the political leadership that can only be resolved by fresh presidential elections.

Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa, the organising secretary of the CIPK, said last night: "There is need for a fresh mandate to conduct the affairs of the country. What we are experiencing now is a game of musical chairs. It isn’t just about to end. It can only get worse."

And in Eldoret, the disappointment over the stalemate was even deeper, even turning into anger. Mr George Korir, 56, who owns a veterinary medicines’ store in Eldoret town lashed out: "We are getting tired of this circus. For how long are these meetings in search of a new Cabinet going to be held? Kenyans have more serious issues to attend to."

On a day of heightened expectations, Kibaki and Raila met three times at Harambee House, but were still unable to break the deadlock. They called off consultations till today.

"We have had lengthy consultations throughout the day on the formation of a grand coalition. In this regard, we have made substantial progress but we have decided to adjourn the consultations until tomorrow afternoon," a three-paragraph statement signed by President Kibaki and the Prime Minister-designate, read.

Both appealed to Kenyans to be patient and assured them that they expected to successfully conclude the matter today.

"We would also like to assure Kenyans that the final outcome will be in the best interest of all wananchi," the joint statement, added.

The meeting at Harambee House started as early as 11am and went on for four hours before the two principals took a one-and-a-half hour break.

However, by the time the last meeting was concluded at 5.35pm, it was clear that Kenyans would have to wait a little longer for an agreeable Cabinet.

President Kibaki was the first to arrive at his Harambee House office at 10.30am before Raila arrived 24 minutes later.

Along the way, what was expected to be a meeting between Kibaki and Raila turned out to be a discussion between the two and their allies.

When Kibaki arrived at his office, Vice-President, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Local Government minister, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, and Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, were waiting for him.

Four minutes after his arrival, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Ms Martha Karua, walked into the office.

At 10.54am, the Prime Minister-designate’s motorcade drove in accompanied by ODM pentagon members. Head of the Civil Service, Mr Francis Muthaura, was outside Harambee House to receive Raila.

Pentagon members, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr William Ruto, Mr Najib Balala, Ms Charity Ngilu and Mr Norman Nyaga, followed them in.

Also in tow were Westlands MP, Mr Fred Gumo, Kisumu Rural MP and party Secretary-General, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, and Mr Omingo Magara, the party treasurer, who is also South Mugirango MP.

Narok North MP, Mr William ole Ntimama, and ODM Chairman, Mr Henry Kosgey, joined them.

Private discussion

Government Spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, later issued a statement saying the President and Prime minister-designate were holding a one-on-one private discussion.

"The delegations from the two sides are waiting for further communication from the two principals," said Mutua’s statement.

Mutua said the President had invited Raila to discuss "names of individuals to be included as ministers and assistant ministers in the formation of the Cabinet".

Three and a half hours into the meeting, ministers started arriving one after the other. First to arrive was Machage, who was followed by Prof Sam Ongeri (Education) and Mr John Munyes (Water and Irrigation).

Mr Kiraitu Murungi (Energy), Mr Yusuf Haji (Defence), Mr Chirau Mwakwere (Transport), Mr John Michuki (Roads), Dr Naomi Shaban (Special Programmes), Mr Samuel Poghisio (Information and Communication), Dr Noah Wekesa (Science and Technology), Mr Moses Wetangula (Foreign Affairs) and Mr Amos Kimunya (Finance) also joined.

Even as it emerged that Foreign Affairs and Local Government were in dispute, other sources told The Standard that PNU was also unwilling to cede Transport and Energy ministries.

Uhuru is understood to have told the meeting at Harambe House that it was not fair to focus on his ministry as "if some ministries were more special than others".

But ODM is said to have asserted that there would no Cabinet if they were not given the two ministries (Foreign Affairs and Local Government) as initially agreed.

"We are still in talks. We have a problem agreeing on two crucial ministries, but things don’t look bad," a minister, who spoke from Harambee House, is reported to have said.

Outside Harambee House, Mudavadi said: "We are still on and the deal has not been sealed at the moment."

Balala, his Pentangon colleague, added: "The issues ODM raised have not been resolved and we think we shall continue to demand the same."

On Saturday, Muthaura wrote to the ODM head of Secretariat, Dr Mohammed Isahakia, telling him that President Kibaki and Raila had "agreed" on a list that had been presented to the ODM leader when they last met for lunch.

In the latter, Muthaura had purported that the ‘Saitoti list’ was agreed upon by Kibaki and Raila when they met last Thursday. But ODM’s position is that no such list was agreed upon.

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