Hopeless Grand Coalition proves Annan right

A meeting called by Kenya’s Grand Coalition government collapsed in chaos on Saturday, further vindicating a widespread perception that President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are hopeless failures.

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Ironically, the retreat at the Kilaguni Lodge in the vast Tsavo National Park was meant to prove to the entire world that the Grand Coalition can solve its own problems without the need for international mediators such as former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan.

Kibaki and Raila, leading opposite camps of the giant coalition, could not agree on what to discuss at the much publicized meeting. Kibaki wanted to evaluate the performance of the coalition a year after its formation.

Raila and his ODM party not only wanted to renegotiate the terms of the partnership but want Chief Justice Evans Gicheru and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali dismissed. Kibaki has already made his position clear, that the two will remain in government at least for now.

Yesterday’s events were both laughable and tragic at the same time. Laughable when senior government ministers appear in front of the press naively admitting their inability to function. Tragic because the fate of over 35 million Kenyans lies in the hands of bungling idiots who could not draft an agenda for a weekend meeting.

Though Koffi Annan is not known to gloat at the failure of others, he must be feeling that his work in Kenya is far from done. He had called both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga for a meeting at Geneva base. Both shunned the meeting arguing that Kenya is a sovereign state that does not answer to foreign masters, or words to that effect.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told Annan that Kenya’s government could handle its own affairs and that international mediation was no longer necessary. Indeed, this is the reason why the Kilaguni meeting was called: to demonstrate that the key partners of the Grand Coalition could meet at a place and time of their choosing to discuss the way forward for Kenya. Too bad none of the partners actually knew what they were going to discuss.

Right from the start, both Kibaki and Raila had opposing views about the meeting. When Koffi Annan first issued his Geneva invitations a month ago, Raila was of the view that the National Accord that formed the Grand Coalition was going to be renegotiated. Raila has complained of not having enough power to enact reforms and that he should get a higher salary than Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.

In reality though, Raila’s main concern is his inability to appoint ODM supporters to key government jobs as he promised during the 2007 election campaigns.

This is what is driving his calls for the dismissal of such key government personalities as Chief Justice Evans Gicheru, Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali. Raila wishes to appoint ODM affiliated personalities to the key positions in order to demonstrate his influence in government.

Raila further believes that Gicheru and Ali helped Kibaki consolidate his rather shaky electoral victory in the 2007 General Elections. Gicheru presided over the inauguration ceremony at State House on December 30th 2007 that gave Kibaki a second presidential term. Raila is also convinced that the post election violence could have forced Kibaki out of power if it wasn’t for the police and military.

The ongoing saga over the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) can also be seen in similar light. KAA Managing Director, George Muhoho, is a key ally of President Kibaki and his ouster would be a coup for Raila. However, it appears that Kibaki may have seen through the machinations and instructed Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere to give Muhoho a one-year contract just to prove who is in charge of appointments.

It is interesting that the latest failure of the Grand Coalition comes after a sustained national campaign by both Kibaki and Raila to show that they are happily working together. 2009 began with the unravelling of massive corruption scandals involving Kibaki and Raila allies. The inability of the two principles to act against those stealing from the government was telling.

Opinion poll ratings give the Grand Coalition an approval rating of only 30%, making it more unpopular than the Moi government. Religious leaders accuse the Kibaki-Raila duopoly of poor leadership and have called for fresh elections which the government outrightly rejects. The release of the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report implicating the Grand Coalition in the deaths and disappearances of thousands of youths didn’t do much to enhance the government credibility.

With these manifest failures, Kibaki and Raila have spent the last month traversing the country campaigning for their coalition. Kibaki has been creating new districts in an unprecedented frenzy aimed at wooing the public but civil servants are questioning the strategy behind the move. Both principal partners have been at pains to prove that the Grand Coalition will survive until the next General Elections in 2012.

When Koffi Annan made his Geneva invitations, both Kibaki and Raila closed ranks to prove that they did not need foreign interference to solve disputes within the Grand Coalition. Last Saturday’s retreat was the culmination of Kibaki and Raila’s cosying up together but the disastrous end shows that Kenyans are in for another rough ride.

With ODM saying that they will announce their next moves in coming days, it should now be obvious to Annan that his involvement with Kenya will last far longer than he originally thought.

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