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Stop using public resources to fight me, Raila tells Jubilee leaders

By Oscar Obonyo | October 26th 2014
Raila Odinga Interview

Nairobi; Kenya: Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader Raila Odinga has accused operatives in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government of pilfering public coffers and engaging in corrupt deals with a view to fighting him politically.   

In an exclusive interview with The Standard on Sunday, only two days after his return from assignments in America and Mozambique, the former Prime Minister decried what he termed “misuse of poor wananchi’s money” in the name of taming the Opposition.

“These happenings remind me of the bitter wars between President Jomo Kenyatta and his former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Then, State House and top security functionaries blew millions of tax payers’ money on trailing Jaramogi everywhere he went,” said Raila.

Recounting the days just before Jaramogi was placed under house arrest in the 1970s, Raila, who is the former VP’s son, recalls that several police vehicles with tens of heavily armed personnel would be parked near their rural home in Bondo as late as midnight. “They only drove off when the lights in the house were finally off. That is when locals coined the phrase that Gatundu (President Kenyatta’s hometown) never slept until Bondo had slept,” Raila revealed.  

Below are excerpts.


THE STANDARD ON SUNDAY: You have come back from foreign engagements and immediately ignited debate on various fronts. Why is it that there is usually a lull in CORD during your absence?

RAILA ODINGA: These allegations are incorrect. It just happens that my co-principals were also away; Senate Minority Leader, Moses Wetang’ula in Cameroon, and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka in China and later South Africa. Otherwise, there has been progress in the Okoa Kenya referendum initiative, which has now reached the critical phase of formulating the Bill and referendum question. In the meantime, Kalonzo and I have been consulting frequently since we returned and Kenyans will soon see major internal matters and challenges addressed.


Q: Shortly before your return, Jubilee leaders held a press conference claiming, among other things, that the ICC cases were part of a political plan to block the President and his deputy from defending their seats in 2017.

A: To quote former American President Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some people some of the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Jubilee’s is tired propaganda – they used it last time to earn sympathy among voters and now hope they can do the same come 2017. And lest we forget, they (Jubilee politicians) are the ones who took us to The Hague, when they coined the phrase “don’t be vague, let’s go to the Hague”. President Kibaki and I voted for a local tribunal but some of them publicly proclaimed that ICC would take 100-plus years before prosecuting the cases.


Q: Why are you suddenly rooting for the parliamentary system of government?

A: We (ODM) have always been for the parliamentary system. We were even divided on this matter at the Bomas of Kenya (Constitutional Conference in 2004). We (then in LDP and later on ODM) were for a parliamentary system, while they (then Narc and later PNU) were for a presidential system. We decided to give in to allow Kenyans get their long desired new Constitution. It was a give-and-take process because they were also against devolution. While we rooted for eight or at most 14 major counties, they increased this to 47 counties.


Q: Why are you revisiting the issue now?

A: Jubilee is trying to introduce the parliamentary system through the backdoor and we are telling them to do it right by changing the structure of government. Our MPs are frustrated because they can no longer ask Cabinet Secretaries questions directly on the genuine concerns of their constituents. Instead, they have to follow the long avenue of posing such questions to fellow MPs, who are House committee chairpersons, who in turn forward the same to CSs, whose responses are relayed to the House by the MPs. In the event that an answer is unsatisfactory, one cannot even ask a follow up or supplementary question. This is the frustration of the MPs, the Jubilee administration and Kenyans at large.


Q: Is a parliamentary system the solution?

A: Universally, it has been recognised that a parliamentary system is superior to a presidential system because the government can at least be held to account. I am against the current arrangement, where non-parliamentarians are being forced to appear before Parliament. We may wish to introduce a mixed system, or modify it like in Ghana, so that we have a Cabinet composed of 50 per cent MPs and 50 per cent technocrats from outside Parliament.


Q: But you have already supported the President in his directive that Cabinet Secretaries should not appear before Parliament.  

A: Exactly. And I said that not because everything is right, but out of the realisation that Uhuru is in a fix. I said he was right in barring CSs from appearing before Parliament under the current system of government. But I understand his dilemma and I am only stating that he should do it right by addressing the whole issue of government structure.


Q: In essence, do you support the notion of Cabinet Secretaries being MPs?

A: Governance is about politics, and the Government must work with the people, or directly with its representatives. Under the previous arrangement, if somebody had a problem or petition, they simply knocked at the gate of a given minister’s home to petition or seek redress. It was easier because the minister was also an elected representative of the people. That is not the case today. Take the case of Western Kenya. Judy Wakhungu (Environment and Water CS) is the only link between the Government and the people of the Western region, yet she has a home and family in Kiambu. How can people access her?


Q: What are your thoughts on the raging debate on the Karen land saga? 

A: There are clear indications that this is a major scam, but instead of following those who may have grabbed the land, we can see that the Government and our friends in Jubilee are trying to shield themselves by playing politics. It is sad. 


Q: Please, comment also on the regular trips by President Uhuru and DP Ruto to Migori County.

A: They are invited by some of their friends and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, so long as they do not – in their politicking – set Kenyans against each other.


Q: And what about the on-and-off trip to Kisumu? Will you accompany the President as proposed by some politicians?

A: I am yet to be invited, and I do not understand why organisers of this tour are dragging my name into the matter. Nairobi, and not Nyanza, is my political base, and my constituency is the entire country. If these people want me to accompany the President to Kisumu, do they also expect me to follow him wherever he goes, say in Kakamega, Mombasa or Kitui, where CORD enjoys fervent support? Uhuru has even presided over projects in Nairobi’s Kibra, where I was MP for two decades, but he has never asked me to accompany him. So, why in Kisumu?


Q: Reflecting on the referendum, what is your take on a recent poll that suggested the Pesa Mashinani initiative is more popular than Okoa Kenya?

A: ‘Pesa Mashinani’ and ‘Okoa Kenya’ are basically two sides of the same coin. Pesa mashinani is at the top of our referendum agenda. For somebody to claim that Okoa Kenya is less popular is missing the point, if not deliberately misleading Kenyans.


Q: There is also growing debate about doing away with presidential term limits. What is your take?

A: The issue of term limits is closely tied to that of free and fair elections. Across the continent, many leaders are revising their constitutions to remove term limits. Some ruled for more than ten years, then revised the constitutions to introduce two-term limits. They did two fresh terms then changed the constitutions to reign indefinitely. This is the next big thing waiting to explode. It has the potential to destabilise swathes of the continent, as citizens demand that leaders hand over power. The thinking is that if a leader cannot translate his or her vision into reality in ten years, they will not do it even if they reign forever. Such leaders only end up ruining their nations.


Q: What about limiting the age for presidential candidates, as suggested by some in the Jubilee camp?

A: There is no limit to what can be brought in for a referendum and if some people want it, they are free to bring it on board.


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