Raila: Tactful or reckless populist?
If anyone ever thought that Prime Minister Raila Odinga was tactless, then he proved them wrong on Saturday morning. If anyone ever thought that the Prime Minister was a reckless populist then he proved them right on Sunday.
By asking his close aides implicated in an audit report to step aside, Raila seems to have kicked the legs of the chair and left President Kibaki reeling. He beat him 10 nil.
Self-doubt has never stalked Raila and his hesitancy, when a journalist asked him whether the President was in the loop over the suspension of Agriculture Minister William Ruto and Education minister Sam Ongeri, looked like he had bitten off more than he could chew.
The reversal of the suspension on Sunday night ended a rollercoaster weekend and brought back memories of the farce that preceded the planting of trees at the Mau Forest.
In the Mau reclamation drive, Raila went ahead and planted trees despite State House giving him the cold shoulder. And the public opinion favoured him.
As for who between President Kibaki and Raila, is on the right side of history this time is a matter of conjecture, but there no doubt, there was a crack in the mould.
But what prompted Raila to engage in what has clearly boomeranged on his face confounds everyone. What was the Prime Minister up to?
In less than 48 hours, the PM had gone from being the supposed shrewd and tactful politician to a fumbling and clumsy agent provocateur. The release of the PricewaterHouseCoopers Report about the maize scandal cannot be delinked from the PM’s pressure for the Education minister to step aside or to the squabbles bedevilling ODM.
Obviously, the Prime Minister pulled the moves to fight corruption and most importantly to self-preserve and perhaps get back at his adversaries.
In the face of mounting public disquiet over widespread corruption among the political class, the PM claiming the high moral ground looked enticing.
How could he therefore, reconcile his forceful demand for Ongeri to step aside with the maize scandal report that lay the blame squarely at his door step?
On the face of it, there was a case to call for the heads of the two ministers over the scandals in their ministries. Actually the two seem willing to leave office.
Yet Ruto and his ilk have an axe to grind with the PM less because of the usual party strife than because they feel that Raila’s office too is tarred with the same brush of graft.
They think that by suspending them, the Prime Minister was throwing up chaff to disguise the deeper rot in his office. Circumstantial evidence indict him.
As the chairman of the food security committee that oversaw the importation, sale and distribution of maize, Raila bears responsibility for the misdemeanour that arose out of the maize tendering.
So was the PM muddying the waters after the PricewaterHouseCooper report was leaked? This cannot be proven. But the damage was done.
It was foolhardy for Raila to do the same thing twice (send away public servants) in slightly over 48 hours and expect the same results given what was at stake politically.
Raila to many has been the clean man who went into the slimy, corrupt and slow world of Government to smoke out the bad guys.
His critics now claim that the man is deeply submerged in the mire. In less than two weeks, the hunter turned the hunted and his adversaries gleefully smiled as he pressed the self-destruct button on Sunday.
Therefore like the captain of a sinking ship, it could be Raila hoped that slinging out a few fellows could have steadied the vessel. Quite the reverse. He ended up with unintended results and his move has drilled another hole in the sinking ship.
I have said on this column before that the Prime Minister looks like a man in a hurry to fix things, but lacks organisation and strategy. And that his sometimes rash and naive handlers make matters worse.
Today he has to face a pincer attack from his foes and friends. He has to cool the wrangles in his party and wrestle in the supremacy wars in the Coalition. His drive to save the Mau and the anti-graft crusade has inexorably driven a wedge between him and his party stalwarts.
It is easy to sympathise with Raila, yet the suspicions and rumours about his shortcomings keep swirling.
Make no mistake, the Public will be less kinder to the Prime Minister should it turn out that his nose too has been in the trough.
It is ironical that Raila who had turned into the defender-in-chief of the Coalition is the first one to raise the red flag especially about a situation some consider of his own making.
The people may be fired up by all the talk about leaving no stone unturned in the fight against corruption.
But in truth, it was going to be difficult running an unwieldy Coalition riven with acute internal strife where one has to maneuver numerous landmines laid by the other partner.
The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor.
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