Kenya: Cabinet secret retreat

icc_luis_moreno_ocampoPresident Kibaki and Prime minister Raila Odinga will fly all Cabinet members and Assistant ministers for a three-day bonding mission in Mombasa.

The retreat significantly comes before the dust settles on the political nightmare brought to their doorsteps by International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocompo (pictured). He is tightening the noose around influential personalities, some of whom are believed to be in the Cabinet, suspected to hold a higher responsibility for post-election violence.

It is believed among those on the retreat list are possible targets of ICC, against whom Moreno-Ocampo expects Kibaki and Raila to co-operate fully when it comes to their arrest and handing over for trial, possibly outside the country.

The three-day retreat for 44 Cabinet ministers and 52 Assistant ministers takes place this weekend, exactly three days after Parliament resumes. Sources familiar with the planning reported Kibaki and Raila will be seeking to lower hostilities within the rickety Grand Coalition.

The timing is symbolic especially given the 222-member House is about to be asked to make crucial decisions on a new constitution, boundary review and Special Local Tribunal for minor offenders of the post-election violence.

President Kibaki (right) and Prime minister Raila Odinga. The two Grand Coalition partners will fly the entire Cabinet for a three-day bonding mission in Mombasa.

The reasoning could be that if the 97 ministers and their assistants vote as a block, it will be easier for Government to push through its agenda in Parliament, as only a handful of votes would be needed to flip the winning vote to its side.

Previous failed attempts to legislate a local tribunal have been voted out by a combined force of backbenchers and members of the government bench.

The retreat could also be the forum the President and the PM will open up to their subordinates on what they make of the unrelenting international pressure on reforms, the persistent travel ban threats, which has already affected Attorney General Amos Wako, and accusations they are either unwilling or have failed to fight corruption and impunity. What is worse for the President and the PM, as well as to their insiders, is the fact that the US has declared the visa ban list is longer, and three more top officials are to be in it soon.

Moreno-Ocampos visit could feature not only because of its possible ramifications, especially after Kibaki and Raila declined to formally refer the Kenyan case to ICC thereby giving him automatic entry card, but also due to the fact arrests could precipitate a crisis in the fledging coalition.

Bonding occasion

Moreno-Ocampo was in Kenya last week to meet Kibaki and Raila to present them with his mandate and plan for post-election suspects, who in the past he has said he will make them an example to the world on impunity.

Invitation letters for the meeting to be held at Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa from Friday November 13 to Saturday 14 declares the agenda as bonding but a few of those invited we spoke to see a lot more in it.

“Although the meeting had been called before the scheduled visit of Ocampo, definitely the issues he raised with the two principals will feature,” said one assistant minister who preferred anonymity.

“According to the letter of invitation, we are going for bonding,” revealed another minister.

There has been bad blood between some cabinet ministers and their assistants; the latest involving Sports minister Prof Hellen Sambili. She has been rowing with her deputies Mr Kabando wa Kabando and Ms Wavinya Ndeti over the running of the ministry.

On the other hand, the differences between Kenya and the US soured when Obama threw the first salvo after his ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger announced that his government had written letters to 15 top government officials informing them that their engagement with America will depend on how they tackle the reform agenda.

Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo, Government Chief Whip and Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo and Deputy Chief Whip who is also Kangundo MP Johnstone Muthama are the only ones among the 15 who owned up to receiving the letters.

Visa ban

The meeting could also present opportunity for the coalition to discuss the implication of having an AG whose travel abroad to transact official duties is hamstrung by a travel ban by the US, and possibly and albeit in silent reciprocation, by the European Union and Canada.

Several of those who will be attending have been piling pressure on Wako to step aside, not in the least to save the Government and its leadership from embarrassment. Wako was last week officially handed his visa ban while the other three officials are yet to be informed.

Following a meeting between Moreno-Ocampo and the two principals the ICCs wheels of justice started rolling to try the perpetrators of the violence, with the ICC chief indicating trials could begin in July next year.

Moreno-Ocampo also indicated both Kibaki and Raila agreed to facilitate arrest of those who will be indicted, irrespective of their positions, a move which signals a change of heart barely days after reports indicated the two leaders were unwilling to sacrifice their political allies for fear of a political backlash.

Moreno-Ocampo had even hinted that the suspects could be taken to Tanzania instead of The Hague. As the seat of ICC tribunal for Rwanda, which is set to be wound up soon, Arusha, he suggested has the capacity and facilities to try the Kenyan suspects. It is still however unclear if Tanzania would allow for what could spark the animosity of the 1970s between her and Kenya. In any case, the three ICC judges appointed to decide if the evidence against the Kenyans suspects can hold water are yet to sit, leave alone even return their verdict.

They were appointed to determine whether the ICC should commence investigations into the Kenya case. The development came after Ocampo left the country at the end of his three-day visit with a declaration he would hasten the trials. He said he planned to present two to three cases for trial possibly by July next year so that Kenya would go to the next General Election due in 2012 without fear of violence.

The meeting will also be coming at a time when the issue of constituency boundary review has generated heated debate as the Andrew Ligale team goes round the country collecting views from members of the public.

MPs have been appearing at the sittings of the committee and clashing with each other on how the process should be undertaken.

The Standard

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