By VITALIS KIMUTAI
Even as President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga grapple with the devastating loss of Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti and his assistant Joshua Orwa Ojode, attention shifts to vacant positions in Government.
What is clear is that given the sensitivity of the positions the two held, Kenya’s military operation in Somalia, a breakaway threat at the Coast and the need for a peaceful election, a Cabinet reshuffle is inevitable.
In fact the question in Government circles now is when not whether it shall be affected, and interest is now on who Kibaki is likely to succeed Saitoti, and for Raila, who he shall name to take over Ojode’s slot in the Grand Coalition.
This is because the Ministry that suffered the numbing loss following the Sunday, June 10 helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of two pilots and two bodyguards, also bears the unwieldy docket of Provincial Administration. The security and provincial dockets make the Ministry the heartbeat of Government and that is why it is under the President’s watch.
It is also likely that the two principals will effect changes that will give Kenya a substantive Head of Civil Service and Sectary to the Cabinet, which Mr Francis Kimemia took over from Mr Francis Muthaura, albeit in acting capacity. It is quite unlikely that the President would want to walk Kenya into a heated election season, especially given the nasty experience of 2007-2008 post-election violence, with the current status of this crucial office.
Sources told The Standard that although President Kibaki flew out last evening to Brazil for a global environment conference and is expected to be away for a week, discussions on the vacancies have already started.
The sources revealed the Head of State would convene a meeting with the Prime Minister as soon as he returns from Rio to announce the changes. On the other hand, Raila is also faced with a delicate balancing act in filling the slots for Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in a bid to appease his supporters in the Rift valley where his former ally Eldoret North MP William Ruto is pulling the other way.
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Raila also has another challenge of ensuring that he tames the wave excitement touched off by the departure of Mr Musalia Mudavadi from ODM, in the Western political block.
Pick one of allies
It is expected that Raila will demand that he be allowed to replace Mudavadi as Deputy Prime Minister, an office the Sabatia MP clung to despite quitting as Local Government minister and ODM member, whilst arguing, like Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, that this position is assured by the National Accord.
In the event he succeeds in shoving Mudavadi out, this could bear pressure on Kibaki, who only accepted Uhuru’s exit as Finance minister, to also ask the Gatundu South MP to leave the office.
The vacant positions in Government that will be attracting the attention of the two principals also include Ministry of Industrialisation, which is an ODM portfolio, currently held by Fisheries minister Amason Kingi in acting capacity.
Tinderet MP and ODM chairman Henry Kosgey, who had to step aside after he was arraigned in court, held the post. The abuse of office case is still ongoing, and the question remains how long Raila will keep it vacant, despite elections approaching and the end of Kosgey’s case and the likely verdict still being unclear.
In the event that Raila will have to appoint someone to the position, he is likely to pick one of his allies in Rift Valley in a bid to wrest back a little of the ground he has lost to Ruto, who plans to run for the presidency on a United Republican Party ticket.
On this front there are several names that are being mentioned, and they include Energy Assistant minister Magerer Langat and Sotik MP Dr Joyce Laboso who sits in the Speaker’s Panel in Parliament and has of late endeared herself to her colleagues for the manner in which she moderates debate in the House.
Raila also has the critical Local Government docket to fill, which was left vacant by Mudavadi. Regional Development minister Fred Gumo is currently holding the docket on acting capacity.
Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba and Mumias MP Benjamin Washiali were initially billed as favourites of the pending appointments on Raila’s side as far as Mudavadi’s former slot is concerned, but Washali has since crossed over to Mudavadi’s side.
But of interest to the country is what Kibaki intends to do with Saitoti’s post, one of the most influential in the country, with tentacles spread every across every office of Government, down to the Counties.
PNU and ODM insiders confided to The Standard Transport minister Amos Kimunya name was being touted for the Internal Security docket owing to his closeness to the President. If Kimunya will be moved to Internal Security, then an MP, from Saitoti’s Maasailand will most likely be picked to replace him in the Transport ministry.
Assistant minister Katoo Ole Metito and Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchella, who has once occupied a Cabinet office, are said to be the most probable candidates for Transport docket. Konchella, a former Immigration minister with a military background is being regarded as the lead contender. He played the Master of Ceremony role in Saitoti’s burial.
In ODM, Raila is under pressure to appoint youthful MPs to full cabinet positions with Magerer touted as the one to replace Kosgey in the Industrialisation docket.
But it is believed that Raila may go for Belgut MP Charles Keter, because of the compelling need to endear himself to the Rift Valley electorate while taking advantage of the silent revolt in the South Rift against Ruto, especially following the rejection of his nominee to the East African Legislative Assembly nominee, Ronald Ngeny, last month.
Dr Adams Oloo, a political analyst and lecturer at University of Nairobi argues Kibaki would definitely have to pick a trusted ally for the key position of Internal security. “Historically the President picks a trusted politician for the docket. Before Saitoti, Kibaki had entrusted the position to Chris Murungaru and John Michuki,” Oloo said.
Gwasi MP John Mbadi and his Rangwe counterpart Martin Ogindo have been mentioned as a possible replacement for Ojode.
The name of Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo has also featured. He was elected on an ODM-Kenya ticket, but is now working closely with Raila.
When contacted, Charles Keter laughed off the matter saying nobody had approached him.
“I am from the wrong side of the (Grand) Coalition and therefore it is not possible for me to be picked,” he argued. There was also talk that Housing Assistant minister Margaret Wanjiru could replace Cooperative Development minister Joseph Nyagah, who has lost interest in ODM.
It is also expected that Raila might pick from either Emuhaya MP Wilber Otichilo, Lucas Chepkitony (Keiyo North), Pollyns Ochieng (Nyakach) or Omondi Anyanga (Nyatike), to replace Dr Richard Gesami who stepped aside as Assistant minister.