No dialogue! The hardliners fighting in Ruto, Raila corners

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio leader Raila Odinga.  

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio leader Raila Odinga.  

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Hardliners around President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga are fuelling the political fire with hawkish positions that continue to widen the rift between the two factions and dampen the quest for dialogue.

But the top leadership, too, has stuck to hardline positions, with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Mr Odinga yesterday rejecting calls by religious leaders for dialogue to end the crisis that will escalate with protests set to be held twice a week.

The government has signalled intent to use a ruthless strategy to counter the demonstrations, with the Communications Authority threatening six television stations with revocation of broadcast licenses for extensive coverage of Monday’s protests.

“We want to tell members of the clergy that we have heard you and we respect you. But why are you telling us to hold a dialogue with someone who has been blackmailing us? We are telling the clergy not to request us to sanction blackmail and impunity. He is blackmailing us into talks. How can you request us to fall into that trap?” Mr Gachagua remarked in Murang’a yesterday.

Mr Odinga, too, flatly rejected the push for negotiations. 

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing the demonstrator in Eastleigh Nairobi on March 20, 2023. 

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing the demonstrator in Eastleigh Nairobi on March 20, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“We do not want talks. We want the truth, and we want our demands met,” Mr Odinga said, referring to demands to open poll servers to audit last year’s presidential elections he claims he won, stop recruitment of electoral commissioners and lower cost of living. 

“To those saying we want a handshake; this is an insult to the intelligence of Kenyans. We cannot participate in a handshake with an illegitimate regime,” Mr Odinga said, scoffing at suggestions he wanted a deal akin to the one he had with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

Digging in

Like in previous times when the nation has been on edge—such as the violence following the 2007 presidential election—the feuding factions are digging in. Analysts argue these allies thrive in times of conflict because they get political relevance, hence the tough conditions that have been laid down, impeding dialogue. 

The President’s allies insist Mr Odinga must first recognise Dr Ruto’s presidency. They question how the dialogue would be structured with an opposition that insists it does not recognise the President.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa said that whereas they were willing to have the talks, it must only be on the state of the economy and nothing else.

Majority leaders Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wah (National Assembly) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate)

Majority leaders Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wah (National Assembly) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate) during a press briefing at Hustler Plaza, Ngong Road, Nairobi on February 27, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“Any dialogue should and must be on the state of the economy and not on extra-constitutional and ridiculous blackmail issues such as servers opening and reversal of matters already determined in line with our statutes and constitution like the IEBC panel,” Mr Ichung’wa said.

“It must be dialogue on how we reconstruct our battered economy without the blackmail to reinstate corruption-ridden subsidies designed to benefit those demanding their reinstatement at the expense of Kenyans,” the Kikuyu MP added.

On Tuesday, Mr Ichung’wa and his Senate counterpart Aaron Cheruiyot led dozens of ruling party lawmakers in a press conference at Parliament Buildings where they demanded Mr Odinga’s arrest.

“We want to tell the Inspector-General not to just arrest small boys, the buck stops with Mr Odinga. He should go for him and if there are his sponsors, he should go for them also, otherwise, people will protect themselves and their properties,” Mr Ichung’wa said.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech insisted there can only be dialogue if there are “genuine concerns raised by an opposition that recognises the government of the day and accepts its own status and oversight role”.

“If we are not considering having a dialogue with the bandits terrorising innocent Kenyans in the North, why should we have a dialogue with the political bandits terrorising Kenyans in Nairobi?” Mr Koech asked.

Government share

UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala also alleged that Mr Odinga’s camp was only seeking a share of government while clothing this pursuit with the cost of living grievances.

“We are willing to engage Raila in a structured manner and not in a clandestine manner the way he engaged with Uhuru Kenyatta. We have proposed a law to establish the office of the opposition leader so that we engage with him in a structured manner,” said Mr Malala.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition spokesperson Prof Makau Mutua insisted calls for talks were futile because the coalition does not recognise “Mr Ruto and his illegitimate regime”.

“He (President Ruto) knows that in cahoots with the IEBC and the Supreme Court, he imposed himself on Kenyans. How then do you dialogue with a regime that was rigged into power? Not only that, he’s failed miserably to do anything to alleviate the suffering of the people,” said Prof Mutua.

President William Ruto addresses a crowd gathered at Kegati in Kisii on March 23, 2023.

President William Ruto addresses a crowd gathered at Kegati in Kisii on March 23, 2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

He added: “He’s busy trying to destroy Azimio to create a Kanu-style one-party state and remove term limits. He’s turned state appointments into an exclusive Kikuyu-Kalenjin affair excluding all others and he’s become a profligate spender creating unnecessary offices ... On top of that, we saw how brutal he was on Monday. How can anyone in their right mind ask us to dialogue with such a person?” 

Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said they were ready to stop the demonstrations so long as President Ruto heeds to their calls.

“If today he stops this IEBC recruitment, reaches out to us on our issues with IEBC, lowers the cost of living and opens election servers then there is no need for these demonstrations. But if he pushes his way and gets a William Ruto commission then Kenya will not be the same again. He will be the one responsible for pushing Kenya to the edge. It will not be Azimio,” said Mr Wamlwa.

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna also insisted that there will be no need for dialogue if their issues are addressed.

“I think we have made it more than clear what it would take to end the protests. First, reduce the cost of Unga,” said Mr Sifuna.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi also pushed back on the calls for dialogue, insisting that it is not a priority at the moment.

“We have now entered a new phase which entails mass action. This new phase is largely driven by the people themselves. It should be left to run its course,” said the Ugunja MP.

Azimio leaders Raila Odinga (centre), Martha Karua, Opiyo Wandayi, Junet Mohammed TJ Kajwang and Makau Mutua consult with MPs at County Hall Nairobi on November 24, 2022, after the hearing of a petition to remove four IEBC commissioners.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi added that until the three concerns are addressed by the Kenya Kwanza camp, they will continue with their protests.

“Azimio had given 14 days’ period to create room for dialogue on the pertinent issues but they ignored, issued threats and acted arrogantly. Let Kenya Kwanza show some goodwill by opening the servers and implementing tangible and corruption-free policies that will reduce the cost of living,” Mr Osotsi said.

“The hardliners know that if there is a truce and talks then there is every likelihood that their influence on the bosses is going to be whittled down,” argued political analyst Martin Andati.

Governance expert Javas Bigambo said: “Political hardliners in substance are court jesters or court poets who pay their rent of loyalty through being joy bringers.”

Other hardliners in President Ruto’s camp include MPs Owen Baya, Sylvanus Osoro and Zaheer Jhanda. In the Azimio camp are former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, Senate Minority Whip Ledama Olekina, Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo and MPs Babu Owino and Samuel Atandi.