The bipartisan talks by representatives of President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga enter a crucial week, even as Azimio la Umoja one Kenya Coalition postpones demonstrations to await the return of its principal from the United Arab Emirates.
But in what could signal the hardening of stances by the opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya team, Mr Odinga yesterday called out Catholic Church leaders for downplaying his demand to opening of the August 2022 election servers.
Mr Odinga said the demand is central to his agitation and should be supported by all.
Azimio insists that the option of demonstrations is still on the table, accusing Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance of not being sincere in the talks.
This, the opposition says, includes the possibility of resuming the protests on Thursday, especially if Eldas MP Adan Keynan is not removed from the government side of the negotiating team.
The Kenya Kwanza Alliance last week replied to this demand with a call to have Pokot South MP David Pkosing removed, arguing that he is on Dr Ruto’s side after his Kenya Union Party leader – former West Pokot governor John Lonyangapuo – ditched the opposition.
On Tuesday, however, the teams chaired by Tharaka MP George Murugara and Rarieda’s Otiende Amollo resume engagements.
Dr Ruto is keen to stall the demonstrations and confine the talks to Parliament while Mr Odinga is urging an extra-parliamentary process.
Mr Murugara told the Sunday Nation that the talks would continue on Tuesday as the two teams wait for President Ruto and Mr Odinga to make a determination on sticky issues.
“They are the appointing authority and know why they named those people. We meet again on Tuesday at a venue I cannot disclose,” the Tharaka MP said.
“We will agree even through consensus on some things such as time-frame for filing pleadings.”
Contacted, however, Dr Amollo said the media misreported that they have referred the sticky matters to the two leaders, adding that the teams resolved to engage them.
“We said we will engage with them and within ourselves. It was misleading to say we failed to agree and referred the matter to the leaders,” he said.
Dr Amollo confirmed that the committee would have another meeting on Tuesday.
“We are yet to agree on the venue and agenda,” the Rarieda lawmaker said.
During the Azimio coalition meeting at Ufungamano House on April 13, Mr Odinga said the opposition would continue holding demonstrations.
He added that Azimio la Umoja One Kenya would announce the dates after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.
“Nothing stops dialogue out of Parliament. The talks will continue as we hold demonstrations. We will announce the dates after Ramadhan,” he said.
Yesterday, he maintained the coalition’s stance that the anti-government protests are peaceful.
He dismissed the labelling of the marches as violent, unconstitutional and uncalled for by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).
The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya chief agreed with the Church for embracing the position that the government needs to lower the cost of basic commodities but maintained that the protests have been peaceful. He accused the government of unleashing police and goons on protesters.
“We do not agree with the characterisation of the protests Azimio has been leading as violent and unconstitutional. We appeal to the Church to partner with Kenyans in urging the state to respect the Constitution,” Mr Odinga said yesterday.
He defended the call for an audit of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) servers.
“As we said from the start of our protests, the push for a forensic audit is guided by a core doctrine of Christianity, which is a belief in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In this regard, and as we have stated before, we are guided by John 8:32: ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’,” he said.
Mr Odinga left the country for Dubai on Friday but his return date is not known. His spokesman, Dennis Onyango, said Mr Odinga would be away “for a few days”.
“The announcement on the resumption of the talks after Ramadhan was made. I have not heard anything to the contrary,” Mr Onyango said.
Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Executive Council chairman, Wycliffe Oparanya, said the protests would resume on Thursday if Kenya Kwanza does not replace Mr Keynan on the bipartisan committee during the Tuesday meeting.
“The talks were to be concluded within 30 days. By then, they should have addressed the issue of opening the server which will tell who won the election. If we won, we proceed to form the government,” the former Kakamega governor said.
Jubilee Party Secretary-General, Jeremiah Kioni, said the opposition cannot abandon what it has already started “since the government is taking the talks as a joke”. He said the protests would resume when Mr Odinga returns.
“We continue the town hall meetings next week. When Baba (Mr Odinga) is back, we will release a schedule for the demonstrations,” he said.
“These people... are misleading Kenyans that the country is broke and can’t pay civil servants. They want the country to collapse.”
At a meeting in Laare, Dr Ruto urged the opposition not to go back to the streets even as National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah told the Azimio boss that there is no room for a handshake with the President.
“Some leaders are pushing for deals among leaders but Kenyans know better. They cannot agree to vote for one side and then there is a deal with those who lost eight months later. I will not be party to it. I am here to work for Kenyans. The people want services, not demonstrations,” President Ruto said.
Mr Ichung’wah said the talks would be held according to the law.
“We started on Thursday and will pursue dialogue anchored on the Constitution. We ask our friends on the other side to respect the Constitution as we pursue the talks,” the Kikuyu MP said.
“We are ready to deliberate on all issues but they should also know that when they table their demands, we have ours too. We don’t want issues to do with handshake.”
Machakos Deputy Governor, Francis Mwangagi, told the Sunday Nation that the talks should be embraced by all sides and focus on key issues facing Kenyans.
“This is not the time for a hardline positions. We should put the country above anything else. It is our hope that the talks will bear positive results and offer a platform for soci-economic transformation,” Mr Mwangangi said.
In its inaugural meeting held on Thursday, the bipartisan committee referred to sticky issues such as the composition of the mediation team, terms of reference and nature of the talks, specifically if it is an entirely parliamentary-driven initiative as the government wants.
The committee also wants the two leaders to agree on whether the scope of work should include audit of last year’s presidential election and the reconstitution of the IEBC.
The opposition has insisted that all its demands – the lowering the cost of food, fuel and school fees, opening and audit of IEBC election servers, restructuring the IEBC, the reinstatement of the four electoral agency commissioners and an end to the poaching of MPs by the ruling coalition – be addressed.
The government side, however, says the talks should only be about the hiring of IEBC bosses.
While Kenya Kwanza insists that the talks be held in Parliament, Azimio is rooting for negotiations that mirror the Serena talks that led to the 2008 National Accord.
Dr Masibo Lumala, a Moi University lecturer, says holding talks outside Parliament is likely to favour Mr Odinga as he has no numbers to push anything in the House while the President wants the talks held in Parliament because he has the majority to shoot down anything that does not favour his administration.
“Parliament has rules and everything must be subjected to a vote. Even if the bipartisan team comes up with brilliant ideas, President Ruto can whip his lawmakers to shoot it down,” Dr Lumala said.
He points out that when talks are held outside Parliament, it becomes a national conversation with more people allowed to bring ideas. When the proposals go to the House, they are an agreed version that sail through easily.
He, however, says the push by the opposition to have servers opened and the government to lower the cost of living can work against it.
“When government lowers the cost of living, it will actually increase Ruto’s popularity,” Dr Lumala said.
More on talks: Ball in Ruto, Raila’s court as bipartisan talks hits a snag
University of Nairobi lecturer, Samuel Mbutu, says the contradictory views of how to effect the talks is a continuation of political cards.
“President Ruto knows he has the numbers to pass the resolutions in Parliament. He is also trying to avoid a situation where Raila can bring in his experienced and hard core supporters on the negotiating table,” Dr Mbutu said.
He adds that from the experience of the 2008 talks, the President knows what Ms Martha Karua is capable of.
“Circumstances will force the principals to agree on whether it will be in or outside Parliament,” Dr Mbutu said.
Mr Javas Bigambo, a governance expert, says Dr Ruto is keen on the parliamentary route in order to stop Mr Odinga from being disruptive and twisting his manifesto.
“Raila is a schemer and wants to be central in the politics of President Ruto’s first term. Reforms may not be the primary thing but a red herring,” he said.