What you need to know:
- Mr Odinga reportedly told them that there was no need to attack the government in public when he had direct access to the President.
- Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said there is no hiding that it was Mr Odinga speaking through the likes of Mr Mbadi in the National Assembly.
An unprecedented attack on the government by allies of ODM chief Raila Odinga in Parliament last Wednesday caught President Uhuru Kenyatta's men by surprise, triggering a series of consultations and meetings, the Sunday Nation can reveal.
Moments after Siaya Senator James Orengo, ODM chairman John Mbadi and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed lambasted the government of President Kenyatta in Parliament, accusing it of incompetence, sources familiar with the happenings told us that the Head of State, perturbed by the turn of events, reached out to Mr Odinga.
“The President was concerned about what appeared as coordinated messaging. He didn’t see it coming,” said a source at the Office of the President.
Mr Odinga, in their consultation, assured the President that he was not behind the hard-hitting statements. He summoned his lieutenants the next day, Thursday.
The three-hour meeting at Mr Odinga’s Karen home was attended by Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga, Mr Mbadi, Mr Mohamed, and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi. They were ordered to cease fire.
The general concern was that sustained criticism of the government would not only see the handshake ship run aground but also give forces led by the Deputy President William Ruto new ammunition to attack it.
Mr Odinga reportedly told them that there was no need to attack the government in public when he had direct access to the President to share their concerns.
The consultation between the Head of State and Mr Odinga culminated in a meeting of six of his ministers and the ODM lawmakers on Friday at Harambee House.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i led his Treasury counterpart Ukur Yatani, ICT boss Joe Mucheru, Agriculture’s Peter Munya, Roads’ James Macharia and Health’s Mutahi Kagwe in a meeting with Ms Wanga, Mr Wandayi, Mr Mbadi and Mr Mohamed to hear their grievances.
None of the Cabinet secretaries or the politicians were willing to comment on the details of their meetings on record even as we learnt that they agreed on a number of action areas to pacify the region.
The perennial flooding in neighbouring areas of Lake Victoria like Nyando in Kisumu was also on the table, specifically on how residents can be helped to overcome it, and thus, the PS for Water and Sanitation Joseph Irungu was also present.
Refusing to comment on the two meetings, Mr Mbadi maintained that while they still support the handshake between his party leader and President Kenyatta, there are real issues affecting people that they must speak freely about.
“We were mute initially for this handshake to sink in the minds of our people and internalise it, but now that it has happened, we will continue to speak and criticise the government,” Mr Mbadi told the Sunday Nation.
“For now when we speak, we will not be seen as fighting the government but actually correcting it. We can’t just keep quiet because we are in the handshake, it is there and we support it but must speak,” he said.
“The government should be able to feed its people, give free sanitisers and masks,” Mr Mohamed said on the floor of the House.
“The government cannot force people into quarantine facilities and expect them to pay the bill. That should be the government’s responsibility as there is money for that in the Covid-19 fund.”
“The government has relaxed because of the handshake. Let them be reminded that the minority is still there and will continue to play its oversight role,” Mr Mbadi added.
While we gathered that Mr Odinga assured the President that the sentiments of his foot soldiers were on the spur of the moment, observers hold a contrary view.
In response to the ODM outburst, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a confidante of the DP’s, wittingly told them that they had no right to complain, having ‘stolen’ their President through the handshake.
With all the focus on fighting Covid-19, there is growing concern in ODM that the window for a referendum is closing fast at a time the Building Bridges Initiative task force is yet to submit its final report.
Mr Odinga and his troops were banking on the task force to recommend drastic changes in the Constitution for their benefit in the next election but increasingly, the worry is getting entrenched in what could explain the frustration in his corner.
The leaders, largely from Luo Nyanza, also feel that the handshake dividend has not trickled down to the people.
While they acknowledge projects like the refurbishment of the Kisumu port and construction of some roads, the politicians charge that a majority of the projects have been abandoned halfway.
“Of course a majority of us are concerned on a number of issues — our people have missed out in lucrative positions which they have been serving in acting capacities and many other issues — but let us adopt a-wait-and-see approach,” said a first-term ODM lawmaker.
The thinking in DP Ruto’s camp is that Mr Odinga, having driven a wedge between Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto through the handshake, now considers the President to be vulnerable “to his political gymnastics”.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a Jubilee lawmaker allied to the DP, said there is no hiding that it was Mr Odinga speaking through the likes of Mr Mbadi in the National Assembly.
“It was so coordinated that anyone could see. When Orengo, Junet or Mbadi speak, we know it is Raila talking. We know they want to blackmail the President to find their way into government through the back door,” he said.
Mr Gachagua said time had vindicated those in Jubilee who were wary of the handshake with Mr Odinga.
“We cautioned the President in his dealing with Raila. We told him the fellow can never be trusted, it has come to pass,” he said.
Suffice it to mention that at the moment, when the rift between the Head of State and his deputy keeps growing, Harambee House Annex sees any insinuation of a misunderstanding between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga as a chance of mending fences.
From those close to the DP, it is his desire to get to the next General Election with Mr Kenyatta on his side. That way, they say, his struggle will be lighter as the support brings with it the full weight of the State to his bid.
A close associate of the DP told us that if the intervention by Mr Kenyatta calms down Mr Odinga’s lieutenants, they will have lost a rare opportunity to restore their relationship with the “deep state”.
Additional reporting by Justus Ochieng