Jaramogi, Raila and the parallel centres of power

A tussle in interpreting the giant coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga marks another chapter in a 44 year old dispute between the Odinga dynasty and Kenya’s post-colonial ruling class.

Raila Odinga

Following independence from Britain in 1964, Raila’s father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga parted ways with President Jomo Kenyatta due to differences in the running of government. Eventually, Jaramogi quit the Vice Presidency and formed an opposition party, the Kenya Peoples Union. The party was banned and Jaramogi detained in 1966.

Outwardly, President Kenyatta was a pro-Western capitalist while Jaramogi was pro-Eastern bloc but in reality, their differences were much closer to home. According to a book by Mr Duncan Ndegwa, a senior civil servant at the time, Jaramogi wanted a greater say in the government, something that Kenyatta could not accept. “Jaramogi wanted to become a co-president to Kenyatta,” says Mr Ndegwa in his book.

Fast forward to 2003. The National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was in power after 39 years of KANU rule. The coalition includes President Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and a host of other politicians. Within months, the NARC coalition crumbles due to differences in the sharing of positions between President Kibaki’s supporters and those of Raila Odinga. According to Raila, his party and that of Kibaki had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that stipulated a 50-50 sharing in responsibilities.

President Kibaki did not dispute the existence of an MOU, but was of the opinion that the 50-50 arrangement was restricted to the cabinet and did not extend to the civil service. Raila’s supporters wanted the MOU to apply to all government positions, to the security services, the diplomatic corp and to state corporations. Matters became worse when some of the members of Raila’s party, such as Moody Awori, George Saitoti and Raphael Tuju shifted their allegiance to Kibaki. This meant that Kibaki had more than 50% of the cabinet but his new found allies were legally still members of Raila’s party.

The MOU issue led Raila and his supporters into walking out of NARC. In 2005, they used the MOU to oppose a draft Constitution written by Kibaki. After the November 2005 referendum, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was born. Though ODM later split into two, Raila’s faction presented a serious challenge to President Kibaki, who had formed another party, the PNU (Party of National Unity). However, the 2007 elections resulted in a near tie between Kibaki and Raila.

Following the disputed elections, Kibaki was declared President for a second term. Inter-ethnic violence broke out, leaving 1,500 hundred people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. The international community brokered a 50-50 coalition between Kibaki’s PNU and Raila’s ODM. Within days, the same old dispute emerged: how to share government.

Once again, Kibaki wanted to restrict the sharing of positions to the cabinet. Kibaki argued that it was dangerous to politicize the civil service while Raila countered that Kibaki had appointed too many of his Kikuyu tribes people and that there was need for other ethnic groups to be represented in government. Raila wanted the 50-50 coalition arrangement to apply to the entire civil service, Judiciary, security services, diplomatic corp and state corporations.

Early this week, Raila’s supporters in the ODM stated that Kibaki and Raila were equal partners in the giant coalition. “The President should not imagine that he is a rank higher than the Prime Minister as they are both constitutionally running a government with two centres of power,” said Mr James Orengo, a minister from the ODM side.

Meanwhile, a US government donation of $525,000 to the Prime Minister’s office is causing a row within the giant coalition. President Kibaki’s allies have criticized the US for creating a “parallel” government by sponsoring the Prime Minister as an individual.

From past experience, attempts at creating multiple centres of power have not succeeded in Kenya. It remains to be seen whether this giant coalition, will help the Odinga dynasty realize a dream that began with the birth of the republic over 40 years ago.


2 Responses


    This article poses the best exemplification of the admixture of logic, fallacies of logic and downright deception that has become a permanent fixture of Kenya’s evolving political journalism. Analyse this statement “A tussle in interpreting the giant coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga marks another chapter in a 44 year old dispute between the Odinga dynasty and Kenya’s post-colonial ruling class.” The statement is meant to pit the Odinga family against a supposed ruling class and for veracity use the historical method. That statement is followed by some historical truths, like when it is stated that Kenyatta and Odinga parted ways, that he, together with others, formed the Kenya peoples Union (KPU)…

    The author ends the article by making two outrageous assertions. First, it is stated that “…from past experience, attempts at creating multiple centers of power have not succeeded in Kenya. Then lastly the author declare that “It remains to be seen whether this giant coalition, will help the Odinga dynasty realize a dream that began with the birth of the republic over 40 years ago.”

    Multiple outlets and inlets of governmental power is an integral part of Kenya’s constitutionalism both in its symbolic and substantive contexts. However due to our history of despotism some Kenyan’s whose cravings link them to the yore still dream of those good old days and strongly make a case that creating a multiple centers of power outlets and inlets is tantamount to crafting an unstable multiple-centers of power. A democratic government must have one center of power symbolized by a sovereign but respecting choices, balancing the different facets of its manifestations and nurturing the concept of Unity in diversity. Contextualization of the governmental agenda is also an integral part of the matrix.
    The constitution clearly provides for not just a democracy, but a multiparty democracy. It is one of the few written constitutions which have an explicit constitutional stipulation for a multi-party democracy. Further to the foregoing, section 23 (1) provides that “The executive authority of the Government of Kenya shall vest in the President and, subject to this Constitution, may be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him. Then section 23(2) provides that “Nothing in this section shall prevent Parliament from conferring functions on persons or authorities other than the President”. What the mean is that the Kenyan constitution has from inception envisaged multiple centers of power. That is why the President must be the focal point for all governmental actions, the symbol of Kenya’s sovereignty, legitimate government and exercise of authority. In actual sense, the parliament can bestow the actual performance of powers, and duties on other offices. That is why the National Reconciliation Accord dispensation has without changing so much of the letter of the constitution done so much damage to the aspirations of those who still believed in the divine rights of Kings.
    The Kenyan constitution has basically divided the executive authority into two significant elements, thus policy enunciation and integration on the one hand and supervision and coordination of the execution on the other. While the president remains the head of the former through chairmanship of the cabinet system, the prime minister heads the latter. This has further strengthened the checks and balances system, reduced despotism and enabled parliament through its easier access to the prime-minister and the ministers to develop shaper scrutiny of the system. There is today more accountability and transparency than before 2008.

    Further, Raila is the son of the late Oginga. True. Raila and the late Odinga epitomized the fight against the imperial presidency. They both fought for change. True. They were greatly revered y the Luo community. True. They exemplify the best of Kenya Nationalism. True. But these are not enough reason to denigrate their role in identifying with the peoples quest for civilized political manners. We had a country where presidents could treat the entire nation as if he owned the materials that belonged to the people, and even thereafter still deserve to control both bodies and spirit.

    Give Kenyans a break

  2. The coalition government was never good for Kenya. Hii kitu ya nusu mkate haitusaidii!

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