/ 4 October 2004

Three blind mice vs lame duck

Simmering tension in Kenya’s coalition government has exploded into open hostility with war-talk and vicious, personal attacks. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — a “partner” in the ruling National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) — last week confirmed its intention to abandon the coalition “in time” to fight its erstwhile allies in the 2007 election.

The announcement exposed the “happy marriage” between the LDP and President Mwai Kibaki’s National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) that ousted Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya African National Union (Kanu) in 2002 as a troubled affair.

LDP leader, Raila Odinga, is expected to be Kibaki’s main rival for the presidency.

The two have become implacable foes since the recent demotion of LDP figures in favour of former enemies Kanu in a cabinet reshuffle that resulted in a much maligned “government of national unity”. Cementing the animosity between the two is Odinga’s desire to become executive Prime Minister — a thinly-veiled attempt to usurp the President’s powers say Kibaki supporters.

“Odinga is now saying: ‘Okay, so you don’t want me to be Prime Minister. Fine, I will be President instead’ … it is a confident move that has taken all of us by complete surprise. But it remains a move that will fail,” a senior government official told the Mail & Guardian.

Under the guise of a “recruitment drive”, the LDP is on the campaign trail, three years before the next election. In a challenge filled with cheek — and danger — it has begun intruding on territory previously considered safe only for Kanu and NAK. The LDP this week also promised to “within the next few weeks” campaign in Kibaki’s Central Province stronghold, which commentators said offered incontrovertible proof of a “final, irreparable split”.

In another confrontational move, the LDP announced that its election cry would be “Rainbow fagilia!” (Rainbow sweep), a thumbs-up sign would counter Narc’s two-finger V-salute and the party has established its headquarters — Rainbow House — in a plush Nairobi suburb. Throughout all this posturing, the LDP remained blatant in its defiant reclamation of its rainbow symbol from the Narc government.

The LDP moves were met with rage by NAK, who warned that the President would be “destroyed” if he did not fire LDP “rebels”.

Kibaki, whom critics have labelled a “lame duck” for his apparent lack of action in the face of numerous crises, maintained his customary silence. His wife, Lucy, though, launched an attack on his LDP detractors — Odinga, National Heritage Minister Najib Balala and Environment Minister Kalonzo Musyoka, whom she scorned as “three blind mice” on a quest for power and personal enrichment.

The Kibaki camp and some commentators urged the LDP to quit the coalition government.

“It is dishonest and hypocritical to continue serving in the government … and then day and night plot against it,” said Macharia Gaitho, The Nation newspaper’s chief political correspondent.

Musyoka countered: “The country will have to go to the polls [for an early election] if we quit. Narc is a coalition made up of several parties. Departure of one of the affiliate members will render the ruling coalition non-existent.”

“Kenyans must be vigilant that civil war is not ignited by people who lust for power,” was the rejoinder from NAK Assistant Minister Kivutha Kibwana.

The LDP maintained it would not leave the government unless “forced” to, prompting NAK to allege that the LDP was clearly bent on “sabotaging” Kibaki’s administration “from within”. This claim was denied by Odinga, who pledged to serve the President loyally until 2007.

But, as he traversed the provinces in search of support and voiced scathing criticism of Kibaki, Odinga’s actions and words spoke louder than his pledge.

All this war-talk is taking place in a Kenya still haunted by the brutal tribal-political clashes of 1992 and 1997, which killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom have yet to return.

Scoffing at the LDP as “little small ants”, assistant minister in the Office of the President Danson Mungatana ranted: “We will run over them … and crush them under our feet. By the time we are through with them they will be hiding in a grave and breathing through a tube.”

The statement drew an immediate rebuke from the LDP, which branded it “careless and warlike” … but NAK simply reiterated that “the swords are drawn and the battle lines declared”.

The sparring between the Narc government partners has become a bare-knuckled brawl.