Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is Uhuru The New Professor of Politics?

“The opposition must challenge the government, it must keep the government on its toes. I expect the KANU opposition to live up to this responsibility...” Daniel Arap Moi on 30th December 2002 during the inauguration of President Mwai Kibaki

When history is written about the role of Uhuru Kenyatta as the Leader of the Official Opposition during the Ninth Parliament, in my mind, there is unanimity that he fought the good fight and wavered only as the breasting of the tape neared. The words spoken by retired President Daniel Arap Moi on the day of the inauguration of President Kibaki on 30th December 2002 were equally from someone whom history will judge as a true Professor of Politics who also wavered as the breasting of the tape of his tenure neared. Subsequent weeks after this advise from Moi, Uhuru assumed the mantle of Leader of the Official Opposition after the KANU Parliamentary Group meeting on 9th January 2003 put forth his name as that of the Party Leader of the Party that had the highest seats in Parliament after the Ruling Party NARC.

As expected of a Leader of Official Opposition, Mr. Kenyatta named his Shadow Cabinet or the ‘Alternative Government’ as it has been described on the website of the Official Opposition Party KANU. This was communicated to the Speaker of the National Assembly on 11th June 2003. This Shadow Cabinet included the ‘Honourables’ Billow Kerrow (Finance), Joseph Nkaissery (Defence), Maoka Maore (Roads and Public Works), Chris Okemo (Economic Planning), Marsden Madoka (Foreign Affairs), Musa Sirma (Local Government), Mutula Kilonzo (Attorney General), Samuel Poghisio (Labour and Human Resource Development) to name but eight.

The naming of the Shadow Cabinet seemingly came late as it was named five months after the Government side, vide the President, had named its Cabinet.

By naming a Shadow Cabinet, Uhuru was following the Parliamentary Practice that had been alive since Sir John Cam Hobhouse coined the phrase ‘His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ in 1826 and Sir Robert Peel’s ‘alternative government’ took power in 1841. With there being more than one Opposition party at times, it became necessary to draw up the term ‘Official Opposition’ which is a term of legal effect rather than grammatical exactness. In 1937, the Ministers of the Crown Act in the United Kingdom formally granted a salary to the Leader of the Opposition.

Kenya has followed this British tradition which since the National Assembly Remuneration Act has made provisions for the Leader of Official Opposition to draw perks such as a salary. Uhuru as the Leader of Official Opposition has thus been drawing (or is expected to have drawn) a house allowance, extraneous duty allowance and entertainment allowance of a higher value than an assistant minister and which matches that of a Cabinet Minister.

It is my belief that all Shadow Ministers should have similar allowances to those of the serving Government Cabinet Ministers as they are expected to have an output of a simulacrum nature to that of the Government Cabinet Ministers in keeping them on their toes. The Shadow Cabinet has traditionally the privilege of sitting on the front bench of the opposition side in Parliament.

In Kenya, the title ‘Leader of Official Opposition’ is not necessarily a constitutional office but it is contemplated in the Constitution and is recognized in the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.

Under the Constitution, Section 45B that constitutes the Parliamentary Service Commission makes provision for it to have in its membership, the Leader of the Official Opposition.

On the other hand, the Standing Orders also give the Leader of the Official Opposition certain added privileges. For instance, under Standing Order 81, during debates in the House, such Leader has additional time than other members and congruent to the time allocation for the Leader of Government Business.

The Standing Orders incidentally have the following definition:-

“Official Opposition Party” means the opposition party consisting of not less than thirty (30) members provided that where there are two or more parties with more than 30 members, the Party - with the highest number of seats in the House shall be deemed to be the official opposition party.

In Kenya, there was confusion after the 1992 elections in which the parties of Ford Asili and Ford Kenya tied with thirty one seats and both lay a claim on the Official Opposition Party tag. Subsequent defections from the Ford Asili party weakened its hold on the seat. It is not hard to understand why former President Moi tried to lure defectors into KANU to technically have no Official Opposition Party. Incidentally, with twenty three seats, the Democratic Party of Mwai Kibaki didn’t have a look in during this confusion as they were seven seats short of the threshold.

After the 1997 elections, the Democratic Party was the undisputed Official Opposition Party with forty one seats (including the two nomination slots gained through the IPPG reforms that did away with the travesty of KANU getting all the twelve nomination slots in 1992).

Thus KANU’s sixty eight seats after 2002 elections (including the four nomination slots) continued the pattern of increased seats for an Official Opposition Party. With no dispute as to which was the Official Opposition Party, the only time a dispute arose was when Nicholas Biwott staged a party coup and tried to assume the role of Leader of the Official Opposition.

On November 30, 2006 the Speaker ruled that Uhuru remained the Leader of the Official Opposition. According to the book Parliamentary Practice, Erskine May confirms that the Speaker’s decision on the identity of the Leader of the Opposition is final.

As Leader of the Official Opposition, Uhuru went about his business of keeping the Government of the day in check. He chaired the Parliamentary Accounts Committee that looked at several issues raised of the Government. In fact, the so called Anglo Leasing scandal was brought to fore by one of his Shadow Cabinet Ministers. Later, on September 28 2006, Uhuru went on to state that:

It is our (PAC) considered opinion that the executive has shown a lack of leadership on the corruption agenda and it is therefore no wonder that the situation now seems so convoluted and confused.

During the (then) monthly luncheons hosted by the Law Society of Kenya, Uhuru was invited as a guest speaker and gave a speech that signified his commitment to keep the Government in check. An excerpt from his speech went as follows:-

From the onset, I would like to categorically state that the present electoral status quo is grossly skewed in favour of the incumbent, a fact that has generated much debate in recent months. The fact that the Government has unilaterally appointed commissioners to the Electoral Commission of Kenya and disenfranchised young Kenyans by refusing to give them identity cards to enable them register as voters, amongst other things, is in itself a form of rigging.

It is unfortunate that those behind the IPPG gains and beneficiaries of it are today the same ones who seek to reverse the gains in order to cling to power.

Prior to this, Uhuru had also decried that the President had adopted a hands off, ears off, everything off leadership which he found wanting.

On 20th June 2006 at the height of the Artur Brothers soap opera, Uhuru stated in his Parliament Buildings offices that he has evidence to back his allegations that the Brothers had visited State House where the President lives and works. ‘Did they meet him?’ he posed.

Uhuru had allied himself with the rebels in the Government and teamed up with the said rebels to campaign against the new Constitution during the November 2005 referendum that ended in a resounding defeat for the Government. When the Orange Democratic Movement was mooted with the rebels in Government, Uhuru was steadfast in defending this position to ally KANU with the persons opposing the Government. On November 27 2006, Uhuru stated that the Orange Democratic Movement was ‘our sitting room and KANU is our bedroom.’

Uhuru had also complained bitterly about the Government’s decision (termed Executive Order) to evict his party KANU from its headquarters. A court case was filed in this regard.

Another court case was filed by Uhuru when the Government appointed members of his party to the Cabinet without consent of the KANU Parliamentary Caucus as required by Section 17(5) of the National Assembly and Presidential Elections Act which states that no person who is elected or nominated as a member of the National Assembly with the support of or as a supporter of a political party (other than the party whose candidate has been elected President at an election) shall be appointed a Minister of the Government of Kenya under Section 16 of the Constitution without the concurrence of the party which supported him for election or nominated him for appointment as a member of the National Assembly.

On December 5, 2006, Uhuru was reported to have crafted a Motion of No Confidence in the Government though it seems this was never tabled. However, he was the one who moved the Motion to discuss the lapse of security at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport during the Artur saga.

Thus, to his credit, Uhuru’s tenure as Leader of the Official Opposition has been about keeping the Government on its toes and speaking his mind about the wrongs he felt the Government had done. Any suggestions that he was receiving money by false pretenses during his tenure are not credible as has been demonstrated.

With elections approaching, Uhuru decided to transform himself into the new Professor of Politics and risk undoing all that he had worked for above by getting into an alliance with Government and withdrawing from the presidential race. Most Kenyans being very selective in their amnesia even forgot about all the achievements of Uhuru as the titular leader of the Opposition. Yet Uhuru’s gesture was typically following that great Bulgarian proverb that states that ‘it is allowed in times of great danger, to walk with the Devil until you have crossed the bridge’.

Uhuru had found himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The danger KANU faced was annihilation at the polls with two main sets of political alliances emerging. The choice for KANU as indeed has been for many was to either choose to be in one camp (or party) or the other. The eight members of his Shadow Cabinet mentioned hereinabove have made decisions to jump ship and abandon KANU altogether.

By backing the Government, Uhuru has not done anything unusual in terms of Kenyan politics. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga raised eyebrows when he co-operated with President Moi and acknowledged that Moi was a giraffe who could see far. Similarly, on June 30, 1999 members of the then Official Opposition Party which was the Democratic Party had voted with the Government to defeat a motion of no confidence in the then Vice President George Saitoti. The motion had been brought by National Development Party (NDP) and led to NDP moving to close ranks with the Government after feeling the betrayal by the then Official Opposition Party.

Having mooted the Government of National Unity by incorporating NDP in its ranks, KANU had new found strength at the time. The then Opposition parties considered forming an Opposition of National Unity with a Shadow Cabinet drawn from all opposition parties.

Perhaps this is a step that Uhuru may have considered during his tenure as Leader of the Official Opposition to reinforce the status that his title befits. However, on matters of principle, this would have dealt his case against the Government accused of poaching its members some sort of a blow. How would he have incorporated members of NARC like Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka into his Opposition of National Unity Shadow Cabinet without seeking the approval of the disintegrated NARC that was seemingly long dead except for its hold on parliamentary seats? In the end, the rebels from the Government upstaged Uhuru and came out, to paraphrase Raila Odinga’s campaign slogan, as the ‘Peoples Opposition’ whilst Uhuru and KANU held on to the ‘Official Opposition’ title.

In basketball, they sometimes say that offense is the best defense. I would want to imagine that sometimes, defense will also be the best offense. By defending the Government at its hour of need, Uhuru’s game plan is to make an offense and bounce back in 2012 after emerging with some clout with a Government position after the General Elections later this year if the incumbent wins the elections. If the incumbent loses, he still has his party and the ‘I supported our man’ carrot to dangle at Central Kenya in the battle for the next undisputed Leader of Central. It’s a win - win situation for him.

Already Uhuru has shown his upper hand by insisting that KANU is a partner in the Party of National Unity (PNU) with the other group of parties of Ford People, Ford Kenya, Narc Kenya, DP, Safina, Shirikisho and others much as the scenario in 2002 when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was a partner in NARC with the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK), a situation where one party partners a group of parties. If this strategy works, it will elevate Uhuru to that ‘Professor of Politics’ mantle.

The trouble is that in Kenya, twenty four hours of politics is a long time, leave alone five years. Not everyone will be resting on their laurels come 2012 and the competition will be as stiff as it is now.

To predict whether Uhuru by joining the incumbent has undone all the gains made as Leader of Official Opposition will be to seek to be a clairvoyant. And for him to presume that he would be at the helm of KANU in five years time and its automatic presidential candidate would be like the proverbial counting of votes before they are cast. There will be competition in KANU as there will be out of KANU when the auditions for the motion picture ‘Elections 2012’ are being held in town.

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