The Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition Party last week encountered the biggest test to its survival yet - a dispute between the two primary partners of the formation.
At the heart of the conflict pitting Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement and former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party is the sharing of slots in the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC). ODM slighted Jubilee by nominating two commissioners, with Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya party earning one position in the PSC, setting off confrontations between ODM and Jubilee lawmakers.
On Thursday, a section of Jubilee Members of Parliament accused ODM of deceit and conmanship when the Senate amended a list of nominees to the PSC that replaced Senate Minority Whip Fatuma Dullo with Nyamira Senator Okong’o Omogeni.
At the National Assembly, passions would rise, with Jubilee MPs sustaining the accusations of deceit and their ODM counterparts playing defensive. Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere accused ODM of perennial deceit, referring to its previous failed coalitions, with Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang’ stating that attacks on ODM were unfounded. Yesterday, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, ODM’s Secretary General, kept the subject going.
“A debate with our brothers and sisters from Jubilee on conmanship is one I would very much welcome,” Sifuna tweeted.
“The silent majority within ODM has a lot of things to say and if Jubilee wants a discussion on conmanship then it is something that should be done,” Sifuna told The Sunday Standard yesterday.
During a Thursday press briefing, Eldas MP Adan Keynan said Jubilee would be calling a Parliamentary Group meeting to discuss their relationship with the coalition partners. He had accused ODM of attempting to use the former president’s party members as “flower girls”. Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni yesterday said Azimio’s top brass, as well as other members, would be meeting to iron out the emerging differences.
“Certainly, there are issues that require addressing,” Kioni said.
“Every relationship involves addressing arising issues and we will keep doing that so that our coalition becomes stronger.”
Some of the issues, he would echo Keynan’s remarks on Thursday, involved Jubilee’s position in Azimio, which he said would include the parties’ “ranking”.
“Even when you are part of a bigger team, you never want to lose your identity as a party. There is what we are entitled to as Jubilee and what we must avoid is seeming like we are taking away from each other,” the former Ndaragwa MP added.
“We avoided talks on ranking, but it is something that must be done.”
While ruling on Jubilee’s demand to have a member of the party in the PSC, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula said the Azimio coalition agreement was silent on how member parties would share positions, essentially placing member parties at the mercy of ODM in the face of plans to establish a pecking order. The PSC subject dominated deliberations among Azimio senators early last week. On Monday, a section of them met to select their representative, settling on Omogeni.
Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo said Wednesday that he had written to Speaker Wetang’ula about Omogeni’s nomination, which Wetang’ula rejected having received earlier communication that Dullo was to take up the slot.
“In letters that emanate from the minority side, I am the authority,” the Kilifi senator would say in Senate. Wiper would side with ODM.
“The authority on any matter concerning the Minority side of the Senate is vested in the office of the Minority Leader,” Deputy Minority Leader and Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua said. “When the Minority Leader speaks, he speaks for us.”
A source who did not want their identity disclosed alleged a plan to undercut the resolution of the minority through Dullo’s nomination.
“We learnt that Dullo had secretly written to the clerk proposing herself for PSC,” said the source, who termed the move “pure greed”.
There are now fears that Azimio, birthed eight months ago, is headed for an imminent collapse. The coalition is no stranger to conflict. Two months after joining Azimio, then Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua’s Maendeleo Chap Chap would in May ditch the coalition for President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance, citing opaqueness in the disclosure on coalition agreement.
At the time, several parties had expressed their discontent, threatening to leave Azimio if the agreement was not made public, accusing the bigger parties of undermining their role in the coalition. In the wake of President Ruto’s victory in the August 9 election, more parties, such as Mandera Senator Ali Roba’s United Democratic Movement and Ugenya MP David Ochieng’s Movement for Democracy and Growth, among others, walked out of Azimio, citing similar claims of being undermined and blackmail.
And within the coalition, there were claims of betrayal that led to Raila’s loss, targeted mostly at Jubilee, with Embakasi MP Babu Owino terming Uhuru’s alliance with Raila “a long con”. For a while, Azimio members traded blame among themselves but a meeting that included Azimio’s council - comprising Raila, Uhuru, Kalonzo and Martha Karua, among others - was enough to quell tensions.
Fights among Azimio partners predate the coalition’s official formation. Since their March 2018 handshake, Raila and Uhuru established a partnership that helped them secure a majority in Parliament, making it easier for Uhuru to have his way in the bicameral House. Government proposals sailed through Parliament easily, overcoming resistance from Ruto’s allies. Every so often, suspicion would build, mostly within Raila’s camp, whose members were not convinced that the former president truly supported Raila.
“Not many would have imagined that my brother Raila and I would work together four and a half years after the last election,” Uhuru would say during Azimio’s first rally at the Jacaranda Grounds in March.
“They said that we were lying to each other,” he reiterated.
In the wake of Raila’s defeat, a ranking member of Azimio talked of concerns about Uhuru’s commitment to Raila’s win had been raised in several private meetings and were allegedly ignored. Few such frustrations were aired in public. Amid the debate on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment push, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo highlighted flaws in the BBI Bill, earning dismissal as the vice-chairperson of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee. Siaya Governor James Orengo came under fire, too, for questioning the constitutionality of some of its provisions.
Amollo’s ejection was seen as a move aimed at offering assurances to Uhuru’s Jubilee, whose members had voiced dissatisfaction with Amollo’s and Orengo’s disapproval of some of the BBI’s proposals. Jubilee vice-chairperson would dare Raila to quit the handshake if he was unsatisfied with the arrangement that saw Jubilee cede some of its Parliamentary committee leadership positions to ODM.
Eight months since its formation, Azimio is staring at a fallout, familiar to all the member parties, which have been in partnerships that collapsed. ODM has the memory of the collapse of the National Super Alliance, with former parties Wiper, Ford Kenya and Amani National Congress forming the defunct One Kenya Alliance.
Nasa collapsed mainly because of differences that arose from the disputed sharing of political party funds, which has been cured by the framework to be used this year, which will have parties receive their share of revenue individually.
Jubilee, once a behemoth, was deflated by the exit of Ruto and his allies to form the breakaway United Democratic Alliance.
“What is happening in Azimio is very normal,” University don Macharia Munene told The Sunday Standard. “You have a semblance of a coalition but there is no coalition.”