Kenya is gearing up for an election on December 27 in which president Mwai Kibaki is bidding for a second five-year term but faces stiff opposition from Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement.

Analysts say the race is too close to call, but Mr Odinga, who supported the president at the previous election and once served in his cabinet, has been ahead in the polls for several months. An Odinga victory would mark the first time in Kenya’s short history of multi-party democracy that an incumbent president had been ejected at an election.

Barney Jopson, FT East Africa Correspondent, and journalists from the Guardian, the Independent and the Washington Post interviewed him at Nairobi’s Serena hotel on Thursday December 13 2007.

You’ve made a huge number of promises to the people of Kenya about what you’ll do when you’re president. But it seems there cannot be the money or the civil service capacity to fulfil them all, at least not at the same time, so could you tell us what your priorities are from the long list of things you’re talking about?

Raila Odinga: We’ve made a number of promises and we know they cannot all be fulfilled or implemented in one go. Therefore there will be phased programme of implementation. But when I outlined my vision for this country I started with infrastructure and I mentioned it three times. I said that’s where we would start, because I believe that infrastructure is the best way to jump start an economy that is suffering from somehow depression.

I’m talking about roads, ports, the rail network, I’m talking about energy, water and communication. Physical infrastructure. And the other is the social infrastructure: education and health. I’ve been minister for roads and also for energy in an earlier incarnation, and in those two capacities I presided over the formulation of new policies. I came up with a programme for the rehabilitation of the collapsed road network and the expansion of the road system in general. We intend to attract private sector investment to complement the public sector investment in roads. When I was there we commissioned a study on concessioning funded by the World Bank, which showed tolling is viable on the Northern corridor, which runs from the port of Mombasa through Nairobi toward the border with Uganda. So we intend to concession a modern 12 carriage highway on that route.

I’ve heard you’re planning to issue a $2bn bond to fund road investment. Can you tell us about that?

RO: The entire $2bn is not going to come from a bond. Some of it will be the investment I’m talking about but the rest will be a road bond, which we will float, for the construction of some highways. We believe that with that kind of money available, it will open up the countryside. And concessioning will free some of the money currently being used to maintain highways to be invested elsewhere, in the feeder roads.

On energy, we want to expand our generation capacity. Our capacity is currently 1,200MW and our peak demand is close to 1,100MW, so there is very little left, which is why at peak times we suffer shortages. So we want to expand generation capacity, because we need sufficient supply to attract bigger investments to come here, like the steel industry. It will not come here if you are almost exhausting your capacity. So we want to look at other possibilities. At the moment 70 per cent of our power is based on hydro. But you have a very big geothermal capacity in the Rift Valley. Then there are renewables: wind, solar. In some areas of this country, with high wind speeds, you can generate 300MW. These are remote areas where taking the national gird is not justified, but we can develop stand alone systems.

Then of course the port, we want to expand the port of Mombasa, because a number of countries that are landlocked depend on it. Uganda next door is our biggest trading partner, but it is complaining that inefficiency in our port is hurting its economy. It takes a minimum of 14 days to load a container from a ship on to a truck in Mombasa. It takes a maximum of 48 hours in Dubai to do the same thing. We want to privatise the port, make it a free port like Dubai, make it more efficient, and expand it.

Then we want to improve the rail network from Mombasa, to remove a lot of pressure on our roads. At the moment 80 per cent of cargo from the port of Mombasa comes by road and 20 per cent by rail. That is what is damaging the roads. But it happens because the railway system is so inefficient. That railway was built at the turn of the other century when the technology was still very crude. There are too many corners, so the train is very slow. The gauge is also narrow. So you can straighten it, make it wider and electrify it, then the train will go much faster. It took the British five years to construct the line from Mombasa to Kisumu. The independence governments – not just Kibaki, but Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi – have never added a single inch to that railway line. I think that is a strong statement about the mediocrity with which this country has been run.

Are you going to have to raise taxes to pay for all this?

RO: That’s not necessary. We don’t have to because we’re going to attract more private investment into this economy and we’re going to introduce more fiscal discipline. At the moment there is a lot of wastage. When you talk about free secondary education, for example, it costs only KSh20bn. By the records of Transparency International, the country loses KSh30bn annually in procurement. Actually they procure a lot of air and the money is going into to people’s pockets. Just trying to introduce fiscal discipline, you will be able to make sufficient savings without increasing taxes.

I also wanted to talk about judicial reform, because to make the system more efficient we must reform the judiciary. The corrupt judiciary is an impediment to a functioning democracy and scares away investment. Cases take too long to be heard. We will carry out genuine reforms of the judiciary to make it more responsive to the needs of the country.

And we will deal with red tape. They say they have a one stop shop for investors, but when you want to invest, if you want a work permit for your staff, they tell you go to immigration; if you want a tax holiday they tell you go to treasury; for security go to the ministry of home affairs. We will create a proper one stop shop where investors can go and get all the information they require.

We will also reform the civil service generally to make it leaner and better motivated. And we will deal with the issue of insecurity, which is scaring away investment. There is corruption in the police force, which is also a source of insecurity. Police are not able to do their jobs properly. We will reform the force, make it better remunerated, and remove those who are incorrigibly corrupt.

It seems the youth will to a large extent decide the outcome of election, and you seem to have a higher percentage of younger voters than Kibaki in the polls. What do you plan to do for the youth in terms of jobs, and do you intend to include some more youthful members in your government?

RO: The youth are now the majority in the population. These are people who don’t know anything about colonialism. When you tell them you fought for independence you are not resonating with them. These people are more concerned about today and tomorrow. I think the biggest failure of Kibaki is he was over-dependent on the old generation, physically going to the museum to bring out retirees and giving them top positions in his government. They have let him down, the men of yesterday.

In terms of employment, we are going to look at the more productive sectors of the economy. At the moment economic growth is in which centres? One is tourism, two is agriculture, that is coffee and tea as well as horticulture. Then the other one is telecoms, mobile telephony, Safaricom and Celtel. That is what gives you growth of 6, 7 per cent. It is not in the productive sectors of the economy. We want to attract more investment in manufacturing, using local raw materials, and we want to promote more use of the information technology, like creating call centres to benefit from outsourcing, which is happening in other countries like India and Malaysia. And then there’s large scale agriculture, to make the country more self sufficient in food. This will create more sustainable growth and more meaningful employment for the youth of this country than the service sector. This government and economy has been too dependent on the service sector only.

Then we do hope we are going to get many more youth elected at these elections, so we will have a cabinet that is more than 50 per cent young. Young in my view is under the age of 50.

One of the messages of your campaign is that a lot of the wealth that’s been created in the past five years has gone to the president’s tribe. What, if anything, will you do to try and reverse that concentration of wealth in the Kikuyu community?

RO: We are not anti any community, Kikuyu or Kamba or anything else. We would basically like to see equity and a fair share. We want to create opportunities for everyone, an environment for competition. This is what’s not been there. This government has depended too much on just one community. The members of the Kikuyu community are Kenyans, they will have opportunities like everyone else. We are not going to nationalise anybody’s wealth. We believe very strongly in the private sector and using it for growth and development.

When we talk about equity in terms of the distribution of wealth we mean devolving funds. The revenue that is collected by government will be devolved to the regions. At the moment there is too much concentration of power and resources in Nairobi and there is too much discretion in the distribution of these resources. Because the ministry of finance single-handedly prepares the budget and it remains a secret until the day it is read by the minister on the floor of the house. So all the people in the periphery wait for the budget to be read to know if a road, a water project or a health centre in their area has been funded. If it’s not there, they have to wait for next year. So the people are completely helpless in terms of development.

What we want to do is create the capacity at local level for planning, privatisation and development. Regional government will be responsible for certain areas of development like rural access roads, health centres, primary and secondary education, water projects, issues of the environment, agriculture. But the central government deals with national infrastructure, national highways, and issues like higher education.

The best example is in Wales in the UK. I spent some time there looking at how the Welsh assembly works. Here people will tell you you’re trying to create separate state. I say no, it’s a devolved system. It’s a wonderful model. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have a Rift Valley assembly, or a Nyanza assembly. That for me does not create additional bureaucracy. It makes the system very efficient.

On corruption, you’ve been quite clear that if people who have stolen public funds in the past return the money you are prepared to forgive, but otherwise they’ll be prosecuted. There have been various half-hearted attempts at different investigations. How will you establish who has stolen what?

RO: I don’t think there is really much dispute. Who owes how much is not a secret, because it’s there in the Kroll report [on corruption in the Moi era]. They know the bank account numbers, so it’s not as if you’re going to try to reinvent the wheel. These people are known. The government knows them. The UK government for example says they’re waiting for the Kenyan government to approach them, but the Kenyan government has not been forthcoming. So we will use available information to negotiate with these people. The civil method can be used in dealing with these issues. Like you remember the Enron case, they negotiated not to go to jail. You pay so much and you are spared going to jail. That’s why we’re talking about truth and justice and restitution.

When you talk about that, are you including people in your own coalition?

RO: Yes, we are not sparing anybody. All within our own coalition are agreed, they want to be cleared like anybody else

And if they’re not?

RO: If they owe money, they will be asked to restitute. That’s why we talk about an amnesty. You agree the other side took so much and it is recorded. You remember Desmond Tutu’s commission in South Africa. People went there and confessed. They brought the victims or the relatives of the victims and people were reconciled. Some went to jail, but it was recorded as an official ruling so nobody could persecute you again.

What do you think this election says about the state of multiparty democracy in Kenya?

RO: This election is about two choices. One is the retention of the status quo, continuing business as usual, the way the country has been ruled since independence. And the other is change. Positive change. My view is that president Kibaki and his team represent the past. Kibaki was an assistant minister in 1963, became a full minister in 1966, became minister for finance in 1970 and then became vice president in 1978 up until 1988 and was in government until 1991. Then he was then leader of the opposition and then president for another five years. So he represents the past. The changes he now prides himself on came about as a result of us joining his government [after the 2002 election]. We were the ones who came up with new ideas. It was not him. Things like free primary education. Most of the positive and new things that came after Moi came from the injection of new blood in the three years we were there.

This economy has once grown at 7 per cent or above but it never translated into any meaningful development. If you want to change course and go the route of the Asian tigers we think it is doable. We want to become the African lion. We want to make Kenya the example. We will move alongside South Africa and become an engine for development. We want to make this an example that other African countries can emulate.

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