Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ORENGO: Interview with Leader


Carried in the Leader (August 17-23, 2007 Issue, p.4)


Q: Has the water finally settled with the official split of the ODM?

A: As we approach October and thereafter, we are going to witness a frenzied campaign period with the country going into an election fever.

Q: So you see more alliances taking shape in the coming weeks?

A: Actually, this election will be about alliances. It will not be about parties or ideologies. At any rate, the two major political
formations in the country are not ideological vehicles. In the coming months we will see politicians jumping from party to party just to get votes. However, win or lose, we need to develop parties that will eventually be characterised by what they stand for and not who their leaders are. Pluralism is not an end in itself and at some point, Kenyans will have to find their level in politics by finding a way to use pluralism to enhance democracy, but this will take time. We now need to deal with the question of dethroning political parties from ethnic bases.

Q: So you don't see an end to leadership squabbles in ODM now that the main rivals, Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga, have parted ways?

A: ODM is a mass movement and it is not strange to have such wrangles. It has broad objectives and of necessity you have on board all sorts of people including opportunists. I think the disagreements are healthy but they may become counter productive if they go on for too long, as it happened with the original Ford. However, in the coming month, a clear roadmap should emerge depending on who has control of the main splinter group, though it would have been preferable they stayed together. However, despite the split, you cannot dismiss anything in a political process. Nobody believed something like Narc could come into being in the little time it did in 2002.

Q: What party are you going to stand on and must you toe Raila's line to re-enter active politics?

A: I am still in SDP but as I said earlier, people have to enter into coalitions and people do not want to be excluded from the mainstream. People from Luo Nyanza support Raila Odinga for a reason but there have been instances where individuals have made it to Parliament even after going against the grain. Therefore, I do not agree that it is impossible to win a seat if you are not on his side. The question one should ask themselves however is why he is enjoying that support, which has gone beyond the regional or Nyanza borders. Perhaps it is because of his democratic credentials that were exemplified by walking away from both Presidents Moi and Kibaki.

Q: Do you think people like Foreign Affairs minister Raphael Tuju can make it outside Raila's chosen vehicle?

A: I am not saying he will not make it but there is a bigger question that must be addressed before one chooses what vehicle to travel in. As I said, people do not want to be excluded.

Q: Have you made peace with Raila?

A: We have only differed on issues of strategy and tactics, which may have come out in more antagonistic terms than they were.
Nevertheless, while there could be justification for compromise, from my perspective, I felt, it was not easy to make such compromises.
An example is when Raila chose to work with Moi in government; something I felt could not herald any reforms. However, Raila thought he could use this as a Trojan horse and somehow he caused a stir from within Kanu. One could be right but if you go against the multitude, you might not get to the destination - you have to keep in step.

Q: You have been a very active and popular practicing lawyer - why do you want to go back to active politics?

A: At times, you feel there are things you want to do and these can only be done by getting involved in the political process. These include using Parliament to bring transformation in the political arena, Judiciary and the constitutional debate. I would also like to see national resources properly utilised through Parliament legally addressing the existing inequalities. The floor of the House is a great arena for pressing for change as long as you have people who are driven by commitment to build that nation and to create a new Kenya. There have been people who have in the past though in minority, have made a difference in Parliament. These include the late Jean-Marie Seroney, George Anyona and JM Kariuki. Were it not for JM, there would not be private members motions in Parliament today. I may not change the world when I get there, but I believe I can make a contribution that can make a difference through strengthening parliament as an institution. We need to de-construct the Moi State, which existed more than four years since Narc took over, by removing oppressive tools like the Provincial Administration that continues to be applied today.

Q: What are your chances of getting back to Parliament?

A: I have a very fair chance. The first time I contested the Ugenya seat I had just been out of college, but ran against a minister who was quite popular and people in the constituency have come to the realisation that I was not wrong when I kept out of the mainstream in the last elections. Nobody is throwing mud at me for taking the principled stand I took in 2002, as at times it is better to be right and lose than to be wrong and win. In addition, do not forget that even in the current Parliament there are MPs who got are there courtesy of small parties outside Kanu and Narc.

Q: Have you given up your presidential ambitions?

A: For me it, contesting the presidency was a platform to be exploited and the question is whether it was effectively used.
I was trying to show Kenyans that there was a different way of doing things - which the answer did not lie in Narc or Kanu.

I still harbour the ambition to build a strong political party for effective democrats who would be driven by ideologies and I am totally opposed to parties where "wolves pretend to be sheep.

Q: How do you rate presidential hopefuls Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Mwai Kibaki?

A: The agenda for reform must be highest on the minds of Kenyans. The country needs a reformer and a reformist movement for us to achieve an effective political transformation.

Q: Of what value would Charity Ngilu be to Raila's ODM?

A: You cannot underrate Charity Ngilu as she has fought and risen from the trenches. She played a very critical role in the formation of Narc and rose to be a cabinet minister and certainly, she has a constituency.

Q: Do you believe Raila when he says he will be a one-term president in the new power sharing line up?

A: Unlike the case of the African statesman, Nelson Mandela, in the Kenyan context, there has to be a law in place indicating that one is a transitional president serving a single term.

Q: How do you rate the Ninth Parliament?

A: This Parliament has been a big disappointment to all. It has been a very selfish Parliament that remained unconcerned to its national and patriotic duties. It is a Parliament that was decisively elected and for the first time since independence, the country elected a new president and parliament from another party other than Kanu. It was given the mandate to bring about a new constitutional order, but it has wasted the chance and it will take a long time to create a similar situation.



The "other" James Orengo: