The Flame of Freedom, is a new book by Raila Odinga detailing how he suffered for five years in a coalition government with Mwai Kibaki and his PNU friends who appeared bent on frustrating and humiliating him at every turn
In The Flame of Freedom, his autobiography to be launched in Nairobi on Sunday at the KICC, Mr Odinga paints a picture of five years of torment at the hands of his Party of National Unity (PNU) partners. They appeared bent on frustrating and humiliating the Orange party wing at every turn, from the day the National Accord was signed in February 2008.
Sources of conflict included the extent of Mr Odinga’s powers and his position in the government pecking order, the size and composition of the Cabinet, dealing with the Mungiki menace and the fight against corruption.
Mr Kibaki fired the first salvo, apparently meant to show that he was in charge, with a letter appointing Mr Odinga to the post of Prime Minister, weeks after the signing of an internationally mediated 50-50 power-sharing deal that brought an end to the violence that followed the disputed December 2007 presidential election.
“On April 13, 2008, I received a four-page communication from the Office of the President,” writes Mr Odinga, who now leads the opposition Cord. “It was dated that day, marked “Confidential” and, to my amazement, was headed “Letter of Appointment for the Prime Minister”.
The letter, signed by Mr Kibaki, detailed the PM’s roles and responsibilities. Mr Odinga declined to sign the letter.
“I was astonished that such a letter could be sent by one Principal to another in a coalition of equal partners. Under the [National] Accord, Kibaki and I were in a power-sharing arrangement, and I found it preposterous for one Principal to purport to be appointing the other, and to be spelling out his duties,” Mr Odinga says in The Flame of Freedom.
But that, according to Raila’s book, was just the beginning of what would be a tumultuous political marriage. The next source of tension was a statement released by then head of Public Service, Francis Muthaura, indicating the pecking order in government.
Mr Odinga writes in The Flame of Freedom, that the hierarchy placed the President on top with Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka second. Mr Musyoka of ODM-Kenya (now Wiper) was a distant third in the 2007 presidential election and had joined the PNU side of the coalition.
“I as PM would be number three, with the title ‘The Right Honourable’. My coalition partners were apparently determined to cut me down to size at every turn, but I considered the fact that they felt compelled to do this showed their fear of the Accord and of the equal partnership between Kibaki and me under the Grand Coalition Government,” says Mr Odinga.
Citing the law that recognised him as co-principal, Mr Odinga rejected the pecking order. The Flame of Freedom details how the weeks that followed were marked with a public display of power intrigues.
Mr Odinga said the practice of calling him to address public meetings before the Vice President spoke and then invited the President was meant to frustrate and humiliate him.
He gives two examples of events in the Rift Valley in 2009 when he was forced to publicly object to the practice and insisted that the VP speak first, by inviting him to address the gathering and then invite the President.
Another was at a rally in Eldoret: “The organisers had planned a repeat of the previous day’s slight to me, and called on me to speak before the VP. I objected, and said the VP should go ahead of me. It became a tense and ugly public scene when Kibaki intervened and said that, no, I should speak first.”
In the end, Mr Odinga took to the podium and explained himself, winning the supremacy battle.
“The President’s men from the outset were determined to pay little more than lip-service to the power-sharing arrangement spelt out in the Accord, and the partnership started out on the wrong footing. As the weeks went by, it seemed that instead of dealing with the bigger issues, we were increasingly forced to engage in turf wars,” writes Mr Odinga.
But it was in the formation of the coalition Cabinet that a full-blown battle would take place. The National Accord did not specify the size of the Cabinet, only stating that there would be portfolio balance and that both sides would share positions on a 50-50 basis.
President Kibaki had already unilaterally named his “half” of 17 ministers, meaning the Cabinet size would have to be large enough also to accommodate 17 ODM appointees. Mr Odinga said his party in fact wanted the total number capped at 24, but PNU had other ideas. “We were shocked. Kibaki now wanted 24 posts, which would mean a bloated Cabinet of 48 ministers.”
But even after agreeing on the Cabinet size, the two sides started wrangling over who would get plum appointments to Internal Security, Local Government, Finance, Roads, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture and Energy dockets.
“Our side argued that, since PNU, with the President as Commander-in- Chief of the armed forces, would be taking Defence, ODM should have Internal security as a counter. The OP was insisting on having Local Government, so we said we wanted Finance,” he writes.
The endless negotiations caused further anxiety and Mr Odinga says his side of the coalition had eventually to cede some ground “in the best interests of the country”.
Mr Odinga says, “PNU had also begun under-the-table negotiations with several of my Pentagon [ODM top leadership] members, making them offers they were finding difficult to refuse, and some were even beginning to soften. Najib Balala came to me to plead that we should take the deal and move on. The others, [Musalia] Mudavadi, [William] Ruto, Charity Ngilu and Joe Nyagah, were likewise not averse to making a deal.”
At a point in the course of the negotiations, Mr Kibaki asked everyone else to leave the room at State Lodge, Sagana, where discussions were taking place, and leave him alone with the PM.
Mr Odinga recalls President Kibaki saying that, having spent many years at the Treasury, he was the de facto Finance minister and wanted to retain the docket, which was supposed to go to ODM for “balance”.
Mr Odinga writes: “Kibaki put all this in a way that made it difficult to say no. Here was an old man, practically on his knees. So I said I understood, but in that case, ODM should get Local Government.”
Mr Odinga says instead of being treated as an equal partner, he was increasingly being regarded as the “head prefect”. He also thinks the Cabinet was “too large and too unwieldy to transact any business efficiently”. The Flame of Freedom lends credence to the belief that ODM ministers were being undermined by PNU-leaning Permanent Secretaries (a position since renamed Principal Secretary).
“Certain crucial projects that would have promoted ODM’s image were being sabotaged. These instructions were coming from the Office of the President. I received continual complaints from the agriculture, lands, water, immigration, local government and roads ministries. In health services, Minister Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o went as far as demanding the replacement of his PS.”
The former PM also accuses the Treasury of delaying project funds and Mr Muthaura of bypassing the PM’s office to issue directives on behalf of the President to Cabinet ministers on how to perform their functions. He says he initially raised the issues with President Kibaki, but the frequency of their one-on-one meetings began decreasing as part of the obstacles placed before him.
Mr Odinga says he did not want to be a lame-duck PM and he consulted widely on his role. “In (2008) July, I was invited to visit the UK by the British PM, Gordon Brown, and one department we visited there was the PM’s Delivery Unit.” Some of Mr Odinga’s staff subsequently went to the Unit for training.
Mr Odinga says his vision for the PM’s office was that it should play the role of “catalyst in injecting efficiency into management of the government, so that it could deliver on its campaign promises”.
He describes how “People in the OP were initially resistant. They mistook my enthusiasm concerning change and positive development for an attempt to duplicate government activities and ‘take over’.”
The former PM says he found President Kibaki “stiff and unresponsive” when he went to discuss the strategic plan for his office. “I knew Kibaki from working with him previously and I understood that pressing him further would be futile. So I told him I was going to get the staff from his office to work with my people to revise the draft.”
Mr Odinga also says in his book, that his pledge to dialogue with the Mungiki sect soon after being sworn in as PM received a hostile reception from Mr Kibaki’s side. He describes a meeting with the President in the OP soon afterwards as a tense affair, with Mr Kibaki clearly angry at his decision.
The ex-PM says he had raised questions about the alleged extrajudicial killings by police of suspected Mungiki members and got support from the US embassy for the FBI to be brought in to investigate the killings.
As the coalition struggled to remain together, it seemed destined to lurch from one crisis to another. The restoration of the Mau Forest, for example – which some analysts have said cost Mr Odinga and ODM significant support in the Rift Valley – was yet another area of conflict.
Having agreed to go ahead with the project at Cabinet level, some ministers, notably the then Agriculture minister William Ruto, now Deputy President in the Jubilee government, disowned the project during visits to the area.
“They went to the area and incited title-less settlers in Phase Two not to leave until they had been paid compensation. The agitators ferried forest families to makeshift camps, called in the media, and blamed the ‘inhuman’ exercise on me. A compliant media went along with it, regrettably too lazy to research the facts, or too inept or partisan to point out this was a necessary and collective Cabinet decision to which everyone was party,” he writes.
The Flame of Freedom book will be launched on Sunday at KICC, Nairobi. The chief guest at the event is former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo