Intrigues of Ruto’s meeting as hawkish MPs left out of talks  

Kenya Kwanza legislators led by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa

Kenya Kwanza legislators led by National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung'wa addressing a press conference at State House, Nairobi on April 11, 2023, after a Parliamentary group meeting chaired by President William Ruto. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto yesterday explained to ruling coalition MPs the genesis of his truce with opposition leader Raila Odinga and the discomfort with some of his grievances, as Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua reprimanded those within their ranks sympathetic to their rivals.

The President said he agreed to proposals by emissaries to broker a ceasefire because opposition protests were disruptive, but he ruled out reinstatement of multibillion-shilling food and fuel subsidies he branded “budgeted corruption”, as well as the opening of presidential election servers.

By knocking these two issues out of the agenda for the bipartisan committee, which alongside protection of multiparty democracy and inclusivity in civil service appointments form the opposition’s four-key grievances, the President opened a battlefront with Azimio, which yesterday announced town hall meetings beginning in Nairobi on April 13 and a people’s baraza at Kamukunji grounds on April 16 to explain the process.

During the Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group meeting at State House yesterday, Mr Gachagua stressed the unity of the coalition in the battle with the opposition as he criticised some of their members who were crusading their rival’s messaging.

“Your Excellency, there are one or two people who didn’t support you but did so just because of the wave on the ground. They have been saying they will support Raila because he has half the country. He has been taking his personal views to the public. It is wrong,” a source quoted the DP saying, the statement interpreted to target Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri who was present.

Kiunjuri reprimanded

Mr Kiunjuri, the Service Party (TSP) leader, had last week backed the push for constitutional reforms by Mr Odinga, saying the grievances raised by the opposition leader affected all Kenyans and needed to be addressed through an all-inclusive process.

“Any dialogue to bring the desired reforms should not be a preserve of Parliament. The committee should be inclusive and bring on board religious leaders, professionals, scholars, business people and local constitution experts,” Mr Kiunjuri had said, contradicting the President’s position for a strictly parliamentary initiative.

An MP who attended yesterday’s meeting corroborated the account that the DP reprimanded the lawmaker.

“He was concerned about the MP’s sentiments which he noted were not in line with the government position at the moment and asked us to speak in one voice and not to speak the same language as opposition,” the MP told Nation.
Behind-the-scenes intrigues that led to the exclusion, from the committee to dialogue with the opposition side, of House leaders who have taken hardline positions emerged.

Sources at the meeting said the DP was among those who had favoured Majority leaders in Parliament to represent the ruling coalition in the talks with Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition team.

But moderates prevailed, arguing the inclusion of hawkish members would send the wrong signal about the government’s commitment to the talks brokered to end weekly protests that led to the deaths of three people, the destruction of property and ruined the economy.

“There was a general feeling by the majority of the legislators, and shared by the president, that some of the parliamentary leaders whose names were being fronted had been marked by Kenyans as hard-liners and would have painted a negative picture on the government side on its commitment to the talks,” said an MP.

The government’s seven representatives in the bipartisan committee are Mr Boni Khalwale (Senator, Kakamega), Mr George Murugara (MP, Tharaka), Ms Essy Okenyuri (nominated senator), Mr Mwengi Mutuse (MP, Kibwezi West), Ms Lydia Haika (Woman Rep, Taita-Taveta), Mr Adan Keynan (MP, Eldas) and Mr Hillary Sigei (Senator, Bomet). 

Keynan controversy

However, the inclusion of Mr Keynan, who was elected on a Jubilee Party ticket, will stoke controversy given one of Mr Odinga’s demands is for the President to respect multi-party democracy and stop poaching opposition lawmakers.

“The letter and spirit of fidelity to multipartyism must be entrenched in the ongoing negotiations. We continue to reiterate that we expect parliamentary parties and membership to be respected and not undermined during the talks,” said Mr Wycliffe Oparanya, the chairman of Azimio Executive Council.

Azimio’s representatives in the committee are Mr Edwin Sifuna (Senator, Nairobi), Mr Ledama Ole Kina (Senator, Narok), Mr Enoch Wambua (Senator, Kitui), Mr Otiende Amollo (MP, Rarieda), Mr David P'Kosing (MP, Pokot South), Ms Millie Odhiambo (MP, Suba North) and Ms Amina Mnyanzi (MP, Malindi).

Azimio leaders

Azimio Coalition leaders led by Raila Odinga during the naming of the coalition's Parliamentary Group for bipartisan negotiation with their Kenya Kwanza counterparts at Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos County on April 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Yesterday, Azimio named Mr Amollo, a senior counsel, as the chairman of the seven-member team of negotiators.
President Ruto yesterday urged his legislators to consider his memorandum to Parliament on December 9, 2022, and in particular, as a possible means to appease the opposition, and push for legislation to establish the office of the official leader of the opposition.

“He was concerned about the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule; entrenchment in the Constitution of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Senate Oversight and National Gender Affirmative Action funds, the establishment of the position of the leader of the official opposition and the improvement of Parliamentary oversight of the Executive,” Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja told Nation.

Strict instructions

Majority leaders in Parliament — Mr Kimani Ichung’wa (National Assembly) and Mr Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate) — who addressed the State House briefing said the government team was under strict instructions to adhere to the Constitution and established laws in addressing the re-constitution of the IEBC panel.

In a move that could draw resistance from the Azimio coalition, Mr Ichung’wa was categorical that their bipartisan team would not engage in demands for the opening of last year’s presidential election servers and any ‘failed policies of the past regime like the reinstatement of subsidy program’.

“This PG has asserted that we have no key to any server other than the key to open the economic servers to reinstate our economy to where it ought to be. The matter was well addressed by the Supreme Court and the opposition is within its rights to seek a review under the Constitution and the law from the Supreme Court on the issues of servers they think was not done,” Mr Ichung’wa said.

On the subsidy programme, he accused Mr Odinga’s camp of trying to blackmail the government to reinstate programmes that he claimed were only ‘designed to loot billions of shillings from the Kenyan people’.

“That’s why we have asserted as a PG that we shall support government policies towards subsidising production to enable cheaper foods to land on the tables of Kenyans,” the Kikuyu MP said.

On the reinstatement of the 'Cherera Four' as demanded by Mr Odinga, Mr Ichung’wa quipped that there are no provisions under the law to recall a public officer who voluntarily resigns or is removed from office.

“There are no provisions in any law or under our Constitution to reinstate public officers who have voluntarily resigned from public office or those removed from office as the case was for Commissioner Irene Massit,” he said.

Limited conversation

Mr Cheruiyot insisted that the Kenya Kwanza team was under instructions to limit their conversation with the opposition to the IEBC issue.

“On the issue of the cost of living, we believe that the policies this government has put in place are working and what we are not willing to engage on is the failed policies under the handshake government,” he added.

He pointed out that the Auditor-General had flagged Sh34 billion under the former government’s subsidy programme that could not be traced and that some millers haven’t been paid to date.

“So that’s not the kind of policy we can pursue. Our policies as Kenya Kwanza are yielding results and we shall continue to pursue them,” he said.

Mr Ichung’wa said the PG resolved to support efforts by the government on policies that are geared towards stabilising the economy, lowering the cost of living, creating jobs and incomes for the majority of our people, and ensuring inclusive growth.

“That is the contract the Kenya Kwanza Alliance signed with the people of Kenya.

“In re-affirming our commitment to the dictates of the Constitution and rule of law, the PG directs the team nominated for this bipartisan process to strictly adhere to our Constitution and established laws in addressing the re-constitution of the IEBC panel, as was communicated by the President, on Sunday, April 2, 2023,’ he said.

Mr Odinga had stated that his team will push for legislation through constitutional review to address the winner-take-all system at the talks.

“We need a proper constitutional review to cure the governance defects in the 2010 Constitution and remove the last vestiges of an imperial presidency. In our dialogue with Kenya Kwanza, we will be putting this matter on the table,”  Mr Odinga said.

“Hopefully, through the bipartisan process, we can get our opposition away from street battles and also afford them an opportunity with a leader of opposition infrastructure, funded by the government, again to perform their function of holding government to account.

“I hope that this will be part of the outcomes of the bipartisan engagement that we have now agreed on so that we can move our friends in the opposition from running battles in the streets,” President Ruto told a forum at KICC yesterday.