23 February 2013

Kenya: Implications of Raila Attack On Karangi, Gichangi and Kimemia


When Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched a campaign trail attack on the Chief of the General Staff, the Director-General of the National Security Intelligence Service and the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, who is also the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, he was doing much more than merely adding to his already considerable chutzpah credentials.

A statement signed by the Chief Campaign Manager and Head of Raila's Presidential Campaign Secretariat Eliud Owalo read in part: "We, at the Raila Odinga Campaign Secretariat, wish to alert the Kenyan public to these urgent concerns which, if not addressed immediately, would grossly compromise the integrity and credibility of the General Election".

Coming from the disputant of the 2007 presidential election results this was a serious upping of the ante. All gloves were now off, bar violence. All major observers of the Kenya scene were sitting up and listening, all eyes, all ears.

Fortifying this statement on the campaign trail, Raila and his running mate, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka of the Wiper Democratic Movement, were speaking of the Government in the third person, as if they compromised the opposition to President Mwai Kibaki, not merely the rivalry to prospective president Uhuru.

Kibaki is a man now, not only in the lame-duck phase of the final days of a two-term presidency but in its paraplegic ward phase. No comment whatsoever on these extremely serious charges has emanated from his corner.

Above all, Raila was tightening the noose of his Coalition for Reforms and Democracy three-pronged strategy against the outgoing Central Kenya elite. His attack on these three top officers of the Kibaki Administration was at once Dog-whistle Politics and Southern Strategy, with the intended effect being the production of a Bradley Effect on Election Day itself.

He accused four-star General Julius Karangi, retired Air Force Major General Michael Gichangi and Francis Kimemia of rendering clandestine political support to Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta's Jubilee Coalition ahead of the March 4 presidential transition general election.

What's more, the PM accused these three pillars of the Kibaki administration of engaging in this political activity on government time and in state premises, including the Office of the President at Harambee House in Kimemia's case and the Department of Defence (DoD) headquarters in Karangi's case.

As for spymaster Gichangi, the PM even named a pizza restaurant owned by a son of late billionaire businessman and Central Kenya powerbroker Njenga Karume as the venue of Jubilee-compliant political scheming for the presidential poll.

This was unprecedented. No politician has ever publicly told the head of the secret police in Kenya that he is keeping tabs on him. In the Kanu one-party era, such a scenario was inconceivable.

No politician has wagged a finger at an incumbent head of the military in this country either, or made an allegation as grave as Raila's imputations on General Karangi and the uses he allegedly occasionally puts DoD headquarters to.

Raila's attack on these three was also remarkable for its timing - barely three weeks before the elections and the change of guard at State House. It was a multi-layered assault delivered in one fell swoop. On the surface, it was just a continuation, perhaps the culmination, of the bickering at the top of the cantankerous grand coalition regime. Just beneath the surface, it put the three top officers on notice: I win this thing and you stand fired.

On yet another frequency, Raila was deploring his co-principal in the outgoing grand coalition government, President Kibaki's long-entrenched habit of giving the choicest jobs in the state edifice to Central Kenyans. Implicit in the PM's spectacular allegations was the proposition that, once in power, he would not only promptly retire these three, but he would distribute their big jobs across three different ethnic regions. This was the dog-whistle politicking part of it - and it was heard far and wide.

The official silence from DoD, NSIS headquarters and Harambee House that greeted the PM's allegations was resonant. Government Spokesman Muthui Kariuki issued an Op Ed commentary in the print media attempting to rubbish the PM's accusations but Cord did not even so much as look in his direction by way of acknowledging that it had registered his counter-argument.

Inside Jubilee, Uhuru and running mate William Ruto promptly denied the PM's claims, but all damage the PM had intended was well and truly done.

It may even well be the case that none of the three has actually participated in the sort of scheming suggested by the PM (another school of thought holds that the shocker would really be that they had not), but the truth is beside the point in the political game and stakes that he is playing for.

Raila knows that, in politics, perceptions are everything. He has the two generals and the top civil service mandarin exactly where he wants them just a jump ahead of the Kibaki Succession: in an awkward corner. Scrutiny is now directed against them, not only by local and international media, but by other observers too - and not merely international electoral observer teams of civil society worthies.

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