Impasse piles pressure on Ruto and Raila to accept ‘Handshake’

President William Ruto with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium

President William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium during a past Jamhuri Day celebration.

Photo credit: DPPS

President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga are under pressure to negotiate amid calls for a government of national unity to secure political stability.

The push for a “Handshake” — a truce akin to the one reached in 2018 between Mr Odinga and then President Uhuru Kenyatta to end a political crisis following the disputed 2017 presidential election, is gathering pace.

Impeccable sources in both President Ruto and Mr Odinga’s camps told Nation of two possible outcomes in the feud — creation of the office of leader of official opposition or establishment of a government of national unity.

The President has been forced to come out openly to advocate for the creation of the office of leader of official opposition through parliament to accommodate Mr Odinga, with the hope of ending the feud and avoiding a scenario where the opposition brigade could be accommodated in his government.

Nation has established that the proposals, owing to the slim margin of victory in the last election, have emerged during behind-the-scenes talks spearheaded by US President Joe Biden’s representative, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who left the country two weeks ago, and the Catholic clergy who have met Mr Odinga.

It is on this premise that Dr Ruto, during his address to the nation on April 2, underscored his commitment for the creation of the office of leader of official opposition through a parliamentary initiative, a proposal that Mr Odinga has flatly rejected.

The push by Mr Odinga’s camp to open the 2022 presidential election servers could signal a silent campaign to force power sharing, owing to the fact that President Ruto is unlikely to heed to the calls.

The latest inclusion by Mr Odinga of a proposal on constitutional reforms to address the winner-take-all system, which essentially refers to additional executive positions, is also seen as a ploy for constitutional amendments that would lead to creation of additional positions to accommodate the opposition brigade.

In Mr Odinga’s circle, his running mate in last year’s election, Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua, has insisted on calls to have the servers in the last polls opened for a forensic audit and have President Ruto surrender his seat should the results contradict the electoral agency’s declaration.

The drive by Ms Karua only leaves the option of a coalition government since Azimio has also refused the President’s move to create an office of the leader of official opposition through a parliamentary initiative.

Even though Mr Odinga has insisted that he isn’t interested in a coalition government, insiders in his camp insist that, should they fail to be given access, that will form the basis for a push for a stake in the government.

But Azimio Secretary-General Junet Mohamed insists that they have no interest in joining “a sick government,” arguing that the Kenya Kwanza regime is already a sinking ship due to its failure to address the high cost of living.

Multimedia University lecturer Prof Gitile Naituli argues that it is unlikely that the servers will be opened as it could open a Pandora’s Box and further complicate matters for the country.

He argues that the stalemate could lead to “the formation of  a government of national unity to accommodate opposition politicians for the sake of peace in the country.”

President Ruto has already shown signs of taking a hardline stance, maintaining that he has no capacity under the law to force opening of the servers and arguing that the results had already been upheld by the Supreme court. Both the President and Mr Odinga have come out openly to denounce any talks that could lead to a ‘Handshake’.

The two have maintained a hardline position to forestall internal fallouts by extremists in their camps.

In the President’s camp, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua has openly declared that he will not support any engagement between the Head of State and Mr Odinga that would lead to a ‘Handshake,’ with analysts observing that any political truce between the two leaders would render Mr Gachagua politically irrelevant.

“Even if a handshake were to happen, I cannot be part of it. You saw what happened when he entered into one with our leader in Mt Kenya [Mr Kenyatta], whom we respected. Things started going wrong,” Mr Gachagua told the President to his face at the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa in Limuru, Kiambu County, last Thursday.

On the other hand, Mr Odinga has declared that the Ruto administration remains illegitimate, citing revelations of a whistleblower that indicates that he won last year’s election by more than 2.2 million votes after garnering 8.1 million votes against Dr Ruto’s 5.9 million.

It is on the basis of the two results that Mr Odinga believes he won the election and wants the servers opened for forensic audit.

The chairperson of President William Ruto’s Council of Economic Advisors, Dr David Ndii, has however, pointed to the possibility of a ‘Handshake’ between Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga.

“The first obligation of government is survival and political stability. The more dynasties foment destabilisation the more we will have to spend on political stability. If push comes to shove handshake is always an option. How much you think that will cost?” Dr Ndii posed in a social media post.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja is also one of the Kenya Kwanza leaders who have been pushing for dialogue between the two leaders, even though Mr Sakaja has insisted that his calls for talks should not be misconstrued to mean advocating for a ‘Handshake.’

Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi argues that by the fact that the President has agreed to bi-partisan talks with the Opposition, he has already offered a handshake to Mr Odinga.

“Bi-partisan talks equal this: Ruto has offered a handshake to Raila and by agreeing to talk, Raila has recognised the legitimacy of Ruto’s presidency. The two must negotiate with clean hands and Raila should allow Ruto to go back to work. Talks shouldn't be maandamano (protests) version 2.”