Kenya: ODM Conclave Might Prove the PM's Acid Test

The Nation (Nairobi)

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Kwendo Opanga

Never before has Prime Minister Raila Odinga been called upon to play the roles of diplomat, magician, healer and comforter all at once.

Why? Because the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) goes into a crucial conclave today and even the party's incurable optimists know that this will not be a tidy affair.

The many disturbing and unsettling and, therefore, potentially divisive issues on the table could not only ruffle feathers on the high table but also cause sparks to fly throughout the caucus and country.

But it is a wise move that the party discusses these matters at the earliest opportunity because to postpone and prevaricate will not cause them to go away. If anything they will only fester and multiply.

The challenge is for the PM to use this opportunity to lance the ODM boil and refocus the party on delivering on its campaign promises of last year while keeping the early preparations for the 2012 General Election on the back burner.

Lancing the boil will be on his agenda and may indeed be the reason for the conclave but, as to whether that will be the end of the troubles in ODM, is a totally different matter.

The putrid contents of the boil may intoxicate many and cause them to speak in divisive and vituperative tongues, but the matter of 2012 may simply be papered over.

Why? Because everybody in the political arena is preparing for the General Election that is four years away as if it were four weeks away.

There is urgency about the next General Election that defies description and definition, but it is deeply felt and held.

What are the issues? It boils all down to the effects of the post-election violence and especially claims that the party's top brass actually planned and funded the mayhem that pushed Kenya to the brink of civil war.

Careers are at stake here and individuals who have an eye on the 2012 General Election and the Presidency need to put as much distance as possible between those dark days and those accused of causing the violence while making peace with those affected by it.

Former President Moi piled on pressure on Rift Valley leaders last weekend when he asked them to ask for forgiveness from their neighbours on whom their actions visited violence resulting in loss of life and property.

As if to complicate matters for the PM, the Rift Valley, a hugely important constituency for ODM, seems to pack the gun that could unleash the loud shot in the crowded party's theatre.

The region has MPs who have grouses over the way Cabinet jobs were distributed and the handling of the proposed evictions of the people who have settled in the Mau Forest, a water catchment area.

While everybody agrees that the water in the adjacent areas is decreasing fast, affected MPs are furious and argue that their people have been unfairly targeted for eviction. The person they blame is the PM.

Then there are Maasai leaders who support the evictions and who oppose calls for compensation of the evictees.

They and their livestock need water now and in future; they shout with their voices of blame and appeals for support directed at the PM.

Then there is the matter of the so-called boys who wreaked the violence on their neighbours.

First, where are they? At first Rift Valley leaders said they were in police custody. Police have since denied it.

Is it true, as alleged by a scurrilous blogger, that recently an ODM operative told inquiring parents that when warriors go to war some do not return?

Second, ODM leaders have called for amnesty for them, ticking off a blazing row in the coalition and dividing it down the middle.

Right now it appears the Party of National Unity (PNU) side holds the legal and moral high ground on this matter - there will be no amnesty for criminals!

You mean the PM cannot settle this matter to our satisfaction? That's what ODM's leaders ask themselves and each other privately.

Will Rift Valley remain in ODM if these issues are not resolved?

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Did you say the PM's plate is full? Not yet. The IDPs of the Rift Valley have not gone back to their homes and it is not as yet clear that the IDPs will actually go back.

Most of them may not fall in the ODM column, but their fate is intertwined with the matter of the boys that party faithful will be looking to the PM to solve.

Second, the Central and Mount Kenya areas will look to the PM to end the IDP crisis and if he does appear to be slow, they may look beyond him and seek political alliances aimed at preventing such ruptures in future.

The availability and distribution of government jobs will feature here. ODM leaders promised their supporters jobs by the truck load. They have not been forthcoming.

That the PM himself is under fire at the Coast for firing the Kenya Ports Authority boss and last week waded into the particularly messy ejection of the National Social Security Fund's Managing Trustee, will not only bring the matter of jobs forcefully to the front burner, but also put the PM on the spot.

The conclave may tell him not to relent on the matter of performance contracts and back him on his insistence that judges sign these contracts.

Is there harmony between PNU and ODM ministers? Can the conclave help bring this about?

I don't envy the PM now. However if, after the meeting, he keeps all ODM flanks happy, he will win Kenya's admiration.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
Procurement Consultant
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