Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s orders to Kenya Ports Authority to suspend dredging activities on the shores of Indian Ocean has drawn strong reactions.
A section of leaders allied to Deputy President William Ruto is now demanding clarification on Raila’s role in the Government, with fingers pointing to the handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a key ally of Ruto, called Raila’s attempt to instruct bureaucrats as the “height of absurdity”.
Gachagua spoke in Kiamugaka Methodist Church and repeated the same at Mujwa Catholic Church in Central Imenti, yesterday. Though Ruto was present in both functions, he steered clear of the issue.
On Saturday, while visiting the Likoni channel where a woman and her child drowned after their car plunged into the ocean, Raila ordered dredging works stopped to enable those involved in the recovery efforts to work without interference.
Dredging works are ongoing to widen the channel in order to allow bigger ships to dock at the Mombasa port.
“I want to give an order here that the dredging works stop immediately so that those who are working here can work without interference,” Raila, who is the AU High Representative on Infrastructure, said on Saturday evening.
By yesterday, dredging of the Likoni channel continued despite claims it was causing visibility problems to teams trying to recover the bodies on the seabed.
But this did not stop Gachagua, who termed Raila’s "attempt" to issue orders to public servants as a joke since the Opposition leader had no such powers.
“He is still simply an Opposition leader who we defeated in the last election and has just been brought near the fireplace to warm himself. We are asking public servants to ignore such orders even if put in writing. You will only have yourself to blame if you follow the order,” Gachagua added.
Gachagua’s comments were supported by Kipkelion West MP Hillary Kosgey: “I am surprised. He can only ask Government to stop the dredging. I don’t know where he (Raila) got the authority. We are yet to know what the Handshake means. Initially we thought it was about uniting people, but it appears it’s all about power.”
Belgut MP Nelson Koech added: “Instructions are given when you hold a specific position. The directives should be dismissed since he has no authority. He thinks he has been bestowed powers by the handshake, which is extremely dangerous. This issue must be stopped lest it reaches a stage where he will issue orders the President will be uncomfortable with.”
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said Raila was entitled to give an opinion, but had no powers to issue directives to Government officers.
“He can express his opinion as an African Union Envoy for Infrastructure. Since he holds no position in Government, I will take it that he was expressing his opinion, perhaps as an engineer also. What I don’t know is whether the instruction was based on some advice from experts or it was a spur of the moment,” Muturi said.
But not everyone had a problem with Raila’s order. Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen yesterday said the former PM’s statement or directive should not be a topic of discussion. He said focus should remain on retrieving the bodies.
“If by stopping the dredging the issue can be addressed, so be it. If the orders will help retrieve the bodies, so be it. It doesn’t matter. What we want is lasting solution, including a bridge at Likoni,” Murkomen added.
University of Nairobi don Herman Manyora said Raila may issue instructions, but advises that they be done in private to avoid a scenario of embarrassment should they be defied.
The lecturer said the ODM boss might have been exercising power of association with Uhuru under the handshake arrangement while admitting that his influence in Government could not be wished away.
Calls of support
“As a senior citizen, he has a voice not necessarily to order, but he can say let this be done this way or that way. Raila can have more say in Government than even DP Ruto and I think he is using his "associated" powers. He can also speak as an envoy of AU for infrastructure,” Mr Manyora said.
Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura said: “As a leader, he can issue directions given the inaction. That’s leadership at a time of crisis. At this point, positions don’t matter, especially in the wake of the handshake.”
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir also weighed in on the matter.
“Individuals who are criticising him should instead pursue those who they deem to have powers and ask them why they didn’t give directions. Raila is not in their level, he is senior to them and can issue the instructions,” he said.
Mosop MP Vincent Tuwei described Raila’s order as imaginary and said the former PM had no power to order any Kenyan at will. “Raila is insignificant and has no authority. He is exercising powers that only exist in his imagination. He is, however, entitled to his opinion,” Mr Tuwei said.
Pokot South MP David Pkosing, another Ruto ally, termed Raila’s order a political message that "cannot be effected under the country’s current constitutional dispensation".
Pkosing, who is also the Transport Committee chairman at the National Assembly, said Raila’s order lacked instruments of implementation that include State officials such as Cabinet Secretaries and police. “Anything you say when you are not in mainstream Government is a mere political message. Kenyans should not take such directives seriously,” said Pkosing.
[Additional reporting by Phares Mutembei, Stephen Rutto, Harold Odhiambo and Wainaina Ndungu]