News 2008


Challenge to Odinga role threatens Kenya pact

Financial Times

By Barney Jopson in Nairobi

March 12 2008

A dispute over the role of the new prime minister is emerging as a potential obstacle to agreement on a coalition government in Kenya even before the constitution has been amended to allow for its formation.

Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, have sought to promote a spirit of bipartisanship since signing a power-sharing deal in -February to end two months of post-election violence.

But the amicable mood began to sour after the head of the civil service infuriated the opposition by saying the new post of prime minister - due to be filled by Mr Odinga - ranked third in the government hierarchy after the vice-presidency.

Salim Lone, spokesman for Mr Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, said: "The notion that the principal power-sharers are President Kibaki and [Vice-President] Kalonzo Musyoka, and that Odinga is a minor hanger- on, is a deal breaker.

"The whole world, from President [George W.] Bush downwards, was engaged in trying to strike a power-sharing deal. If that power-sharing deal made Odinga number three, we'd have never accepted it."

Mutula Kilonzo, a member of the government negotiating team, said that Monday's statement from Francis Muthaura, the head of the civil service, was correct. He went on to challenge Mr Odinga's assertion, made to the Financial Times last week, that he would be involved in policy formulation at the ministry level.

"The prime minister's role starts at the cabinet level," he said. "Ministers, with the assistance of their staff, formulate policy and then present it to the cabinet. At that point, Raila becomes a very important person."

Mr Kilonzo is from the same party as Mr Musyoka, who ran as a third candidate in the December election but joined forces with Mr Kibaki in January to boost the president's strength in parliament and secure the vice-presidency for himself.

The relationship between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga has shifted radically following the anger unleashed by the flawed election. On Sunday, they were pictured chatting together at a golf tournament. However, the deal is still viewed with suspicion by hardliners on both sides.

Najib Balala, a leading member of the opposition, said some Kibaki allies had not overcome doubts about Mr Odinga's suitability as a leader.

Mr Kilonzo said: "In ODM and PNU [the president's party] there are lingering doubts. We're being asked: 'Have you sold out? Have you given too much? Have we received enough?' "

The agreement, brokered by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, said the prime -minister would have the authority to "co-ordinate and supervise the execution of the functions and affairs of government". Lawyers for both sides have drafted parliamentary bills to amend the constitution and pass the agreement into law, but the dispute shows there is still scope for differing interpretations.