Jubilee’s gaffe on the Eurobond is Christmas come early for Odinga

This time last year, opposition leader Raila Odinga seemed to be drifting around aimlessly. Okoa Kenya, the drive for a constitutional referendum that was supposed to re-energise the Cord alliance and keep the governing Jubilee coalition on its toes, had lost its initial momentum.

Cord seemed in disarray, with Mr Odinga’s co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula also staking out their own claims to the alliance ticket for the next elections.

Now Mr Odinga is just where he likes to be: At the centrestage, catapulted back with his crusade against corruption, and the Jubilee government’s own blunders.

The latest bonus to fall his way was the ham-fisted threat to arrest him over his defiance of summonses by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission on the Eurobond graft allegations.

To many, it will look like the government is keener to arrest and silence whistle-blowers than to move purposely against suspects.

It is a situation tailor-made for the Mr Odinga’s brand of politics, which the veteran opposition leader will happily exploit to the maximum.

It is not too long ago that in the legislature, Cord looked leaderless, rudderless and unable to provide effective checks and balances, allowing the Jubilee coalition to pretty much have its way.

Jubilee was aggressively making inroads into Cord turf, particularly at the Coast, and in western and eastern Kenya.

Cord had not been able to capitalise much on the International Criminal Court cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, with the trials instead serving to unite the Jubilee coalition base.

It was also apparent that the cases were crumbling, and with that the Jubilee duo was regaining international acceptability, the threat of being reduced to international pariahs was fading away.

Now Mr Odinga is putting the president and his deputy on the defensive by artfully exploiting the chinks in Jubilee’s armour, particularly on corruption.

The perception that President Kenyatta is unable or unwilling to match his anti-corruption rhetoric with action has given Mr Odinga the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the growing public anger.

The latest issue he has managed to stoke the flames with are claims that a large portion of proceeds from Kenya’s initial sovereign bond offering, popularly known as the Eurobond, has been embezzled or cannot be accounted for.

The issue has caught on like wildfire and reinforced perceptions of rampant official corruption even before President Kenyatta recovers from the enforced exit of his powerful Cabinet secretary for planning and devolution, Ann Waiguru, in the wake of theft allegations at the National Youth Service also fanned by Mr Odinga.

The best efforts of the Treasury, the presidency, the official government communication channels, and Jubilee politicians, have failed to sell the official line that no money is missing.

This is partly because the government faces a severe credibility crisis when it comes to dealing with corruption and has been unable to craft a coherent defence when facing such accusations.

Not even Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich’s detailed responses, complete with copies of letters and bank statements from the international bankers and fund managers that handled the Eurobond issue, have convinced a sceptical public that no money is missing.

Frustrated at its inability to disprove Mr Odinga’s claims with facts and figures, the government has responded by unleashing a huge and loud campaign on the political platform and its social media activists aimed at demonising Mr Odinga.

Reducing the whole issue to political exchanges is taking it to just the sort of platform the opposition chief revels in.

The finger-pointing and insults led by the likes of National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kindiki Kithure concentrate on the message that Mr Odinga should not be accusing the government of corruption because he is corrupt too.

They claim that he is bitter because the Eurobond proceeds were not used to pay contracts he had interests in and which were signed when he was prime minister.

The problem with such responses is that they do not answer the original accusation: That Ks40 billion ($1.4 billion) from Eurobond proceeds was stolen.

Instead, the response seem to affirm that Yes we stole, but you have no right to question us because you are a thief too.

Lost in all the noise has been the stark fact that Mr Odinga has himself been unable or unwilling to offer clear proof of his accusations.

He contemptuously turned down an invitation from Mr Rotich to visit the Treasury and get all the facts he needs, saying that a mere Cabinet Secretary cannot presume to summon a former prime minister, and that any explanations should be offered to the people of Kenya not to him as an individual.

The opposition chief also rejected an offer to present the information he has to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

In a letter to EACC chief executive Halakhe Waqo, Mr Odinga’s lawyer Paul Mwangi argued that the anti-graft agency has far more legal and personnel resources than his client to pursue the Eurobond issue, and should exhaust its channels before turning to him for help.

The official probe into the alleged theft of Eurobond money was initiated by a directive from Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko, who ordered the EACC and the Kenya Police Directorate of Criminal Investigations to investigate the issue and report back within 10 days.

Already, the EACC says it has taken statements from top Treasury and Central Bank officials, but given the track record of the agency, the Kenya Police and the office of the DPP, few expect any outcome other than giving the deal a clean bill of health.

The issue has also been probed by the National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee and will eventually come before the Public Accounts Committee, but given the partisan positions already taken, it is likely that the Jubilee majority will have its say.

At this time of claims and counter-claims, however, much could depend on what Controller and Auditor-General Edward Ouko finds and presents to the National Assembly.

At this moment, the focus is shifting to the veracity of the government’s explanation that the money in dispute was disbursed to various ministries. No breakdown was provided on the specific projects earmarked, and this is where the Auditor-General may shed some light.

Meanwhile, there will be more noise in the coming weeks and months because what comes out of the EACC probe is likely to fuel accusations of a coordinated cover-up.

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SOURCE: The East African