Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I

NAIROBI - MPs on Wednesday launched a scathing attack against Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, calling him an “expansionist” and asked President Kibaki to stand up and defend Kenya’s territorial rights. They were particularly angered by statements made by President Museveni on Monday, during a lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, terming them as insulting to Kenyans.

The MPs, mainly backbenchers, demanded that the Kenya Government explain the relationship between the two countries. The Ugandan leader had made disparaging remarks against the Luo community and declared that although the controversial Migingo island belonged to Kenya, the water surrounding it was Uganda’s. He vowed to stop Kenyan fishermen from fishing around the island once an ongoing boundary review is completed. On Wednesday, a Motion asking the government to use all possible means to reclaim the disputed island from Ugandan “occupation” failed due to lack of quorum.

Only 28 MPs were in the House when the quorum bell sounded, forcing temporary Speaker Philip Kaloki to call off debate and adjourn the House. In what appeared like a deliberate attempt by the front bench to halt the heated debate on the Motion moved by Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale, assistant ministers streamed out of the Chambers before David Musila alerted the Chair about the quorum hitch. Musila, an assistant minister for Defence, had earlier ruled out military action as demanded by some MPs.

Meanwhile, President Museveni on Wednesday said his remarks on Migingo island had been misunderstood. Through his communications officer Fred Opolot, the President said the comments were not meant to offend anyone. “The statement was misconstrued, misunderstood and taken out of context... the reason he made reference was the reason that they (British Broadcasting Corporation) are the ones who brought up the issue,” Opolot said. “That was the reason he made reference to Migingo.”

Wednesday’s Motion in the Kenyan Parliament provided an opportunity for MPs to launch scathing attacks on the Ugandan leader over the island row. The angry MPs demanded that the Kenya Government act firmly and with resolve against what they depicted as a creeping military occupation of Kenyan territory. They demanded that the government act without delay to protect Kenya’s territorial integrity. They termed the remarks provocative and insulting, describing Uganda as a “hostile” state.

In his Motion, by Dr Khalwale wanted the government to take all measures necessary to protect Kenya’s territorial integrity and regain control of Migingo island on Lake Victoria and parts of Pokot said to have been occupied by the Uganda Army. Two MPs John Mbadi (Gwassi, ODM) and Millie Odhiambo (Nominated, ODM) called for President Museveni to be removed from power. Before Musila raised the issue of numbers, a minister and four assistant ministers walked out of the Chambers, claiming that the Chair had ignored their pleas to contribute.

Labour minister John Munyes and assistant ministers George Khaniri, Adan Duale, Musila and Kabando wa Kabando walked out, only for Musila to return and notify the chair of the quorum hitch. An agitated Dr Khalwale, who had tabled documents from the US State Department showing that Migingo island was in Kenya, was deflated after the matter was postponed.

President Museveni made disparaging remarks against the Luo community and declared that although the controversial Migingo island belonged to Kenya, the water surrounding it was Uganda’s.

Earlier, an attempt by Musila to halt attacks on President Museveni was defeated when MPs insisted that Uganda was no longer a friendly country. Standing Orders bar adverse reference to leaders of “friendly nations” unless under a substantive Motion. “Uganda has severely failed the good neighbourliness test,” Dr Khalwale said. Duale, who had been in the House before the walkout five minutes to adjournment, differed with Musila, saying “the mere fact that Museveni discussed Kenyans in an international forum” warranted a rebuttal by the people of Kenya through their representatives.

An assistant minister for Foreign Affairs, Richard Onyonka, said MPs had raised serious matters but the government needed time to prepare a response. Debate in parliament was raging as details emerged on how members of a joint Kenya-Uganda technical team working on demarcation of the boundary were disagreeing. Minutes of the technical experts meetings showed that members from Uganda had at times staged walkouts protesting against documents presented by the Kenyan team. The lawmakers also demanded an immediate answer from the government, issued either by President Kibaki himself or the government spokesman, on why a foreign Head of State could insult Kenyans on an international platform. Mbadi said: “We want Kibaki to tell Museveni that his comments on the Luo are unacceptable; we can’t let him bring his dictatorial tendencies into our country.” Mbadi asked Museveni “not to turn a national issue into a tribal issue.” Ms Odhiambo asked the United Nations and the United States to intervene, saying that the remark by President Museveni that “the Luo are mad” threatened regional peace and security. She said that since diplomacy had “apparently failed” it would be prudent for President Kibaki to flex his muscles on the matter.

Moving the Motion, Dr Khalwale asked President Kibaki “to make Kenyans proud of their leadership by disciplining a rogue neighbouring country.” The angry lawmakers said Museveni was simply taking advantage of the confusion in the coalition government to expand Uganda’s territory. The Ikolomani MP told the Ugandan president to keep off Kenyan territory since it was an independent and sovereign state. He warned: “When the leadership changes … Museveni should not expect to be treated the same way come 2012.”

The Ikolomani MP filed the motion two weeks ago at the acme of the dispute over the island and amid reports that Ugandan soldiers were destroying beacons at the border in Kanyerus, North Pokot. Turkana Central MP Ekwe Ethuro and Duale held the view that since Mr Museveni had made his offensive remarks at an international forum, he had already breached diplomatic etiquette.

Garsen MP Danson Mungatana warned that the MPs were “not beating war drums yet”, but merely asking the government to take stern action. The MPs threatened to disrupt cross-border trade until President Museveni “got some manners” in dealing with neighbouring countries ahead of the enactment of the East Africa Community Common Markets agreement.

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