Kenya Kwanza to Azimio: We will not be held to ransom over talks

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, Bomet Senator Hillary Sigei, Tharaka MP George Murugara and Nominated Senator Essy Okenyuri

From left: Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, Bomet Senator Hillary Sigei, Tharaka MP George Murugara and Nominated Senator Essy Okenyuri address journalists after Kenya Kwanza and Azimio bipartisan talks at Crown Plaza Hotel in Nairobi on April 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Leaders allied to President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza Alliance have told their Azimio counterparts that they will not be held to ransom when the all-party talks resume today (Wednesday).

The MPs accused the Raila Odinga-led coalition of not being interested in the talks led by the 14-member all-party committee and of seeking extra-parliamentary engagements.

The scathing response from the Kenya Kwanza side comes after Mr Odinga on Monday issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the committee to ensure that proper talks begin or they will resume protests, with the Azimio leader warning that they are ready to explore other options available to them if their ultimatum is not met. 

The notice came hot on the heels of another demand by Azimio that talks aimed at resolving the post-election stalemate in August 2022, among other issues, be concluded within 30 days.

But vocal Nandi senator Samson Cherargei hit back at the opposition, accusing them of having a hidden agenda, saying their counterparts had always been less than open about the talks.

Breathing fire, the controversial senator dared Azimio to make good on his threat, saying they would not allow him to come to the negotiating table with a gun to his head.

"It seems that Azimio has a different agenda than what should be discussed and that is why they continue to bring in trivial issues. These are no longer bipartisan talks because it feels like we are being held to ransom," said Senator Cherargei.

"But we want to tell them that we will not deal with issues outside what the committee has agreed because the ground rules have been set and agreed. We don't know why they are negotiating with a gun to our heads," he added.

The constant shifting of the goalposts will no longer be tolerated, as Kenya Kwanza will no longer bend to Azimio's whims and agree to issues outside of what has already been agreed.

"The other day they raised the trivial issue of the presence of Keynan (Adan) and we agreed to remove him from the committee. The other time they also tried to sneak in the issue of former president Uhuru Kenyatta's removal from the Jubilee party. We want to tell them that we will totally reject any new demands," he said. 

Committee co-chair and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, in a letter dated 7 May, informed members of the committee of a meeting today (Wednesday) at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, starting at 10am.

Mathira MP Eric Wamumbi said he was not surprised by Azimio's myriad demands, arguing that their counterparts had not been keen on parliamentary talks from the start.

He claimed that the opposition had been gunning for talks between President Ruto and the former Prime Minister, but he said there was no room for discussions at that level.

"That is not happening and we have said that if talks are to take place, they should be limited to Parliament. There will be no other talks. President Ruto does not have time to sit with Raila," the first-term MP said.

The MP urged his colleagues to stop antagonising the process and allow it to continue as it was started in good faith. 

"They will continue to make different demands so there is nothing big in their demands. Let the talks continue while we wait for the report. Let the MPs talk and give us a report on what they have agreed on," he said.

Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda cited opposition to the 2023 Finance Bill as some of Azimio's new threats to derail the talks, saying they will continue to stand their ground as Kenya Kwanza.

"We in Kenya Kwanza will not buy into the rudderless opposition rhetoric. We will defend the Finance Bill with all our strength and energy and it will sail through parliament," he said.

United Democratic Alliance (UDA) general secretary Cleophas Malala urged Azimio not to complicate the process any further, saying the committee's mandate and scope was narrowing by the day as the government addressed some of the issues it had raised.

He cited the issues of the high cost of living and the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

"I want to urge our brothers from Azimio not to give ultimatums because nobody will take them to the streets and remove them. So they should stop giving us ultimatums and do what is right according to the Constitution," said the former Kakamega senator.

For his part, Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi called on both sides of the political divide to stop unnecessary grandstanding and continue the talks without conditions.

Mr Mwangangi said the talks should be concluded as soon as possible so that the country can move on with its development agenda, saying the on-again, off-again protests continue to scare away foreign investors.

"Both sides need to put the country's interests first and stop pursuing selfish interests. There should be no ultimatum from either Kenya Kwanza or Azimio, but goodwill and commitment will resolve the dispute," said Mr Mwangangi.

He added: "These talks need to be concluded so that the country can move on. We are losing investors to some of our neighbours because of these protests. People need to stop issuing ultimatums to make way for bipartisan engagement.