Reform or fall, Odinga warns new
The Financial Times
By Barney Jopson in Nairobi
March 6 2008
The survival of Kenya's new coalition government will hinge on its
success in pushing through constitutional and land reforms, Raila
Odinga, the man set to be prime minister, has said.
Mr Odinga signed a landmark deal last week to share power with
Mwai Kibaki, the president, whose hurried swearing-in after flawed
December elections triggered the worst unrest since independence
and shattered Kenya's reputation for stability.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Odinga said: "The
coalition is premised on reform. First constitutional reforms,
then land reforms, and then institutional and legal reforms. Its
survival is dependent on how far it succeeds in bringing these
Legal moves to establish the coalition and create the prime
minister's post will accelerate today when parliament opens and
begins passing the required constitutional amendments into law, a
process expected to conclude within two weeks.
The coalition will bring together an awkward array of
allies-turned-enemies, as well as hardliners who feel their
leaders conceded too much in the deal, which was brokered by Kofi
Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations.
Asked what would happen if the coalition broke down, Mr Odinga
said: "The two partners are almost equal in strength [in
parliament]. So if one pulls out it will be very difficult for the
other to continue . . . They'll be living on the precipice. It'll
be a dangerous existence. But sometimes people like to take risks."
The coalition could last the five-year term of the presidency if
both partners wanted to continue once reforms were completed, he
said. "But if after they have achieved these reforms the feeling
of the partners is that they should go for an early election, then
they'll decide to go for an early election. But I don't want to
Mr Odinga was speaking at a house in the Nairobi suburbs that
served as the campaign headquarters of his Orange Democratic
Movement. His newly appointed state security retinue milled around
outside among a fleet of government-supplied vehicles that arrived
only on Tuesday.
Defying a pre-election image - promoted by some Kibaki supporters
- as an unpredictable radical, he sought to act as a statesman
during the two-month crisis. Rabble-rousing was left to his
lieutenants, but critics say he could have done more to stop
violence that killed more than 1,500 people and forced more than
300,000 from their homes.
Yesterday his tone was conciliatory. "There is a general desire to
see that this thing will work. I think that feeling is mutual. I
sense it from President Kibaki himself," he said. The two men have
a rocky history, however. Mr Odinga led Mr Kibaki's presidential
campaign in 2002 after Mr Kibaki was injured in a car accident,
but he says the president reneged on a backroom deal to make him
prime minister in his first government.
"You cannot forget the past but you can forgive it," he said,
adapting the message that Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president,
sent to the former British colonialists who had imprisoned him
during the independence struggle. "Everything in life is in the
future. You don't want to continue to be buried in the past."
He said the coalition's priority would be to invest in
infrastructure and restore property, vehicles, kiosks and
businesses destroyed during the violence, which left east Africa's
biggest economy in danger of contracting this year.
Among the government's biggest challenges was resettling displaced
people, who fear returning to live among neighbours from rival
tribes who had attacked them.
Attempts to defuse the deep-seated ethnic tensions inflamed by the
election, which have their roots in land distribution and
inequality, would include the creation of a permanent commission
on ethnic relations and the devolution of power to the regions.
Mr Odinga said that in his role as "executive prime minister" he
would be involved in formulating -policy proposals put to the
cabinet by ministries and would be responsible for -policy
implementation and tackling corruption. "What has happened in the
past is a lot of good policies have been developed on paper, but
you find they are not implemented," he said.
Canny outsider champions the poor
During three decades in Kenyan politics, Raila Odinga, 63, has
cultivated the image of the battle-hardened outsider fighting for
social justice and democracy, despite spending several years in
In the 1980s he spent eight years in jail - six of them in
solitary confinement - for his opposition to one-party rule and
alleged involvement in a coup attempt against the president,
Daniel arap Moi.
He is regarded as one of the canniest operators in the fluid and
opportunistic world of Kenyan political deal-making. While a
paid-up member of the business elite - his company makes gas
cylinders - he is also a champion of the poor.
His most fervent support comes from members of his Luo ethnic
group, among whom he has the status of a tribal chief.
But he came within an inch of the presidency - and claimed to be
its rightful winner - by unifying an array of tribes against the
perceived dominance of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people.
For an interview transcript, visit