Financial Times: According to the agreement you signed with president Kibaki, the prime minister’s role is to “coordinate and supervise” government business. But what seems crucial is who is setting policy and who is controlling spending. Could you tell me how much influence you expect to have over those two things?
Raila Odinga: Well, according to the agreement we’ve signed, policies are formulated by the cabinet. The cabinet is chaired by the president, but I am a member of the cabinet. I become responsible for the implementation of those policies and for ensuring that cabinet decisions are enforced by line ministries. That is part of the supervision work. Secondly, I also ensure that the government is working in harmony; that the ministries all work in tandem – that is the coordination work. Another role is to ensure there is efficiency in the running of government. And the other one is to deal with issues like corruption, so that there is no corruption in the workings of government, and there is also less bureaucracy, less of the red tape that scares away investment from the country. That will be my function, because what has happened in the past is a lot of good policies have been developed on paper, but you find they are not implemented. So there is a disconnect between rhetoric and practice.
FT: Given those arrangements, could you find yourself in charge of the implementation of policies you don’t necessarily agree with, because those policies come from the cabinet?
RO: If they have been approved by cabinet, it’s usually done by consensus. Then I have no option but to ensure they are implemented. I’ll use my position to try to influence the policies at cabinet level, but once they are approved at cabinet I have no option but to implement. But I will also be working with line ministries in their formulation of policies. The policies cabinet normally works through are contained in memoranda produced by the ministries.
FT: Do you accept the term “executive prime minister”, which is what people are calling your expected new role?
RO: That is exactly what it is. It’s more or less like the French model, where you have a president who is executive and a prime minister who is executive, so you are sharing the executive functions. They call it cohabitation. You are cohabiting, hence the need for constant consultation between the presidency and the premiership so there is no conflict.
FT: What issues are you going to face working with president Kibaki, given the alleged rigging of the election and the breaking of the 2002 memorandum of understanding [on power-sharing, signed by Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki ahead of the previous election]?
RO: I think, from our discussions yesterday [the two men met on Tuesday], and from what has happened since the election, that there is a general desire to see that this thing will work. I think that feeling is mutual. I sense it from president Kibaki himself. The success is going to depend very much on the trust and confidence built between us, so that there are no suspicions and fears.
You cannot forget the past but you can forgive it. That’s what [Kenya’s first president Jomo] Kenyatta said after those years in detention [during British colonial rule]. It remains as part of history. But you don’t want to live in the past. Everything in life is in the future. You don’t want to continue to be buried in the past.
FT: What do you think the policy priorities of this new government should be?
RO: The economy is very crucial. We are not picking up from where the last government left us before the elections, because we have this devastation that has come about as a result of the dispute, the crisis. So we need to start from reconstruction. That is urgent. You can call it almost an emergency measure that needs to be taken in the short-term. Then comes the medium-term and long-term.
FT: Reconstruction of what exactly?
RO: In a lot of urban areas businesses were destroyed. Premises were just burnt down by … you can call them protestors. There is a need to reconstruct, not just physical premises, but also capital, so people can be able to start again businesses that have been destroyed. There is the informal sector, where kiosks were burnt and you find people lost vehicles. Then there is the formal sector, where premises with all the merchandise were burnt, in Nairobi, in Kisumu, in Eldoret, in Kakamega, Mombasa and several other urban areas.
In my own vision statement, when I launched my [election] campaign, I talked of infrastructure three times. Now, when there’s been massive destruction, the economy is best revived through heavy investment in infrastructure.
In the US after the Great Depression, they invested heavily in infrastructure to create a lot of employment. In Germany after the war there was the Marshall plan for roads, rail, housing, energy, water and so on. That created massive employment after the devastation of the war and helped them to rebuild the country. So I think this is a route we want to follow.
We’ll use local resources, but we’ll also borrow from the international financial markets. And we want to make full use of the offer by the British prime minister Gordon Brown [to host a conference of international aid donors for Kenya]. I want to be thankful to him for this gesture at this time of need. He is a friend indeed. We will make full use of that to try to raise funds for reconstruction and to put up infrastructure so that Kenya can begin to work again.
FT: What about the issue of the internally displaced people? Can they be resettled back to places they’ve been displaced from? What’s the solution there?
RO: That is the big challenge, because as you know this is not the first time. We had this in ‘91, again in ‘97, and again in 2002. On each of those occasions homes were torched, people were displaced. Eventually in Kisii they went back and resettled, put up new shelters. But again they were burnt. So the question is where are the guarantees that if you settle them this time around it won’t happen again?
FT: It is possible to get that guarantee?
RO: That is what we want to get, a programme that is sustainable, where people will settle and they will be secure. This requires going beyond just the physical reconstruction, but creating a harmonious relationship among these various ethnic communities. So I’m suggesting a meeting between the leadership of these displaced people and of the communities from whence they’ve been displaced in order to reconcile the communities and address the issue of peaceful coexistence. I’m suggesting a national ethnic conference to deal with inter-ethnic relationships so we can develop a kind of a code of conduct that will be used by a permanent commission on ethnic relations, which will be established by an act of parliament.
FT: I don’t see how a conference alone can deal with these things, because they go back to issues of land distribution in the 1960s and, in Nyanza province for example, to a feeling the place has been ignored in terms of job creation?
RO: That’s why I’m talking about the leadership. There are animosities that have different backgrounds. You have for example the Kikuyu-Kalenjin, which is purely land. Then you have Kisii-Kalenjin, which is a boundary dispute. There’s Masai-Kisii, Masai-Kikuyu, which is about land and water. Luo-Kikuyu is more economic because they don’t have a common border. It’s more marginalisation, and it’s the same thing with the Kikuyu-Luhya.
FT: So how do you tackle these deeper issues?
RO: First, the solutions are not uniform. On land you need to find a way of settlement that will not create acrimony, which will not leave a feeling among the Kalenjins that they have been deprived of their land. That’s why it must be discussed at national level. We have in our manifesto a plan for comprehensive land reform, which will make land a factor of production, accessible and available to people who want to use it for production.
FT: So you’ll take that manifesto plan and try to make it government policy?
RO: Exactly. That’s why yesterday we agreed with the president to set up a six man team, three from my side and three from his side, to begin to work on harmonising the manifestos of ODM [the former opposition Orange Democratic Movement] and PNU [president Kibaki’s Party of National Unity] so that we have a common programme, more centrist, which we will be able to implement. We will have sectoral priorities, for example, so we will have a clear road map that we can use to check on the ministries to see that they are meeting the targets.
FT: The main difference between the ODM and PNU manifestos was on majimboism, or federalism. What’s going to happen to government policy on that?
RO: Majimbo is actually devolution, and devolution is a key issue. Now initially PNU was vehemently opposed to it, but as we packaged and marketed and sold it, it was brought by the people. And PNU toward the tail end of the campaign jumped on the bandwagon. So in the end we were actually on the same side, except their devolution was different, because they wanted to create so many tiny districts. That was their answer. In our view small districts are not viable. We cannot build county councils based on one single constituency. It doesn’t make sense because it does not have a sufficient revenue base to be able to provide the services that county councils are required to provide. Now that campaign is over. We are going to begin now to talk again and see where we can meet on the middle ground.
And the other difference between the manifestos was equity, which is tied in with devolution, because we want to distribute resources in a more equitable manner. We have also identified some marginalised areas where we want to pump more resources. And we want to create a ministry for northern Kenya. I’m going to put that on the table in the negotiations.
FT: What chance does the coalition have of surviving five years [the fixed term of a presidency] and what happens if it doesn’t’?
RO: The coalition is premised on reform. First constitutional reforms, then the land reforms I mentioned, and then institutional and legal reforms. Its survival is dependent on how far it succeeds in bringing these reforms. If at the end of these reforms the partners feel they are able to continue, then the coalition can last five years. But if after they have achieved these reforms the feeling of the partners is that they should go for an early election, then they’ll decide to go for an early election. But I don’t want to pre-judge that.
FT: What happens if the coalition breaks down because there’s some disagreement and one side pulls out. Is there an election then?
RO: At the moment we have a hung parliament. The two partners are almost equal in strength. So if one pulls out it will be very difficult for the other to continue. They’ll just be limping. They’ll be living on the precipice. It’ll be a dangerous existence. But sometimes people like to take risks.
Quotes from FT interview Raila Odinga by Barney Jopson
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