ODM backs talks as Raila admits public opposition to Ruto ‘Handshake’

Raila Odinga.

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

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga are jointly pushing for a national dialogue under the proposed National Multi-Sectoral Forum.
  • President Ruto had announced six-day talks from Monday, July 15, 2024, as he battles to arrest the recent wave of anti-government protests.

The Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party has backed calls for National Dialogue announced by President William Ruto on Tuesday.

This came even as Mr Odinga said he had received reports from a section of ODM leaders that the majority of Kenyans were against his possible ‘Handshake,’ with President Ruto.

“Nimeambiwa na hawa viongozi kwamba mumesema hamtaki handshake. Ujumbe umefika. (I have been informed by these leaders that you have said you don’t want a handshake; the message has reached home),” Mr Odinga wrote on his X account on Wednesday, moments after holding talks with a section of ODM leaders led by party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna.

He spoke after his party-sanctioned dialogue, barely a day after Dr Ruto called for a “broad-based political arrangement,” that led credence to reports the President was planning to co-opt Mr Odinga’s troops into his administration.

Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga are jointly pushing for a national dialogue under the proposed National Multi-Sectoral Forum that will be held for six days, starting Monday. The two have since invited the participation of the youth who have been the face of the nationwide anti-government protests.

Mr Odinga has remained a constant figure in major political talks with successive regimes. Some of the talks have been crucial in pulling the country out of political crises, with some leading to major reforms.

National Unity

There were reports that President Ruto is mulling a “Government of National Unity,” and might consider bringing opposition figures into the Kenya Kwanza government as a way out of the political crisis triggered by the protesting Gen Zs, who have demanded a major shakeup of his administration.

But Mr Odinga, following his meeting on Wednesday, appeared to go slow on the matter after the leaders’ warning.

But in a statement, ODM National Chairman John Mbadi said the party supports the talks to address underlying issues to avoid a possible “precipice,” in the country.

“…Raila Odinga always helps the country pull back from the precipice whenever we find ourselves there.   There can be no doubt that as a country, we are at a crossroads and approaching a precipice.  

“One of us has to be magnanimous and patriotic enough to help call the country to order,” Mr Mbadi said.

He emphasised that ODM is “an organised and disciplined organisation that believes in order and command.”

“The party leader has spoken. I have also had a chance to meet and speak with him to explore the matter further. We are in agreement that his call is in the best interest of the country and will help address the emerging issues in a structured and coordinated manner. His proposal will ensure accountability, including timelines within which the issues agreed on must be realised,” added Mr Mbadi.

Mr Odinga had on Tuesday backed President Ruto’s calls for dialogue, noting that “dialogue is the way forward out of the crisis that we’re having today in our country.”

He spoke after consultations with President Ruto a moment after he signed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2024 into law.

The Bill, which was one of the recommendations of the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) paves the way for the appointment of the selection panel that will recruit the electoral body’s new commissioners.

“What was signed yesterday (Tuesday, July 9) is the first bill passed by Parliament based on the recommendations of the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco). More are on the way. Nadco was therefore not a futile exercise as some alleged.  Hon. Raila was right in supporting Nadco. We believe he is now calling for a national conversation,” said Mr Mbadi.

He reiterated the party’s commitment to the struggle for the sake of Kenyans.

“…the country and our detractors must make no mistake. As ODM, and as Baba's people, we have been on the streets and in maandamano before. We never shy away from fighting.  But we know when to retreat and we know when to advance, for the sake of the country.

Anti-government protests

“Consequently, nobody should lecture us about maandamano. We have been there and we can return there but only when Baba tells us,” the ODM chairman charged.

President Ruto had announced six-day talks from Monday, July 15, 2024, as he battles to arrest the recent wave of anti-government protests.

The President had already announced a raft of austerity measures including suspension of the decision to fill in positions of Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs) and dissolution of 47 State corporations with overlapping and duplicative functions, which he noted would be followed by “changes in government,” as he moves to respond to the demands by the youth.

The dialogue, he announced on Tuesday, was agreed upon after consulting with Mr Odinga among other opposition leaders.

The President said the multi-sectoral forum would involve 150 representatives from various sectors and would focus on various issues affecting the country, including poor governance, corruption, tribalism, youth unemployment and ballooning public debt.

This will not be the first time Kenya is applying national dialogue to help address pertinent issues affecting Kenyans.

It mirrors other past dialogue teams including the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) formed ahead of the 1997 General Election.

At that time, many people were holding demonstrations in the streets to push for minimum legal reforms.

IPPG was a coalition of political parties and members of parliament formed to facilitate political reforms and ensure free and fair elections.

The IPPG played a significant role in advocating for constitutional and electoral changes, which led to the amendment of various laws to promote a more democratic and transparent political environment in Kenya.

This group was instrumental in pushing for reforms that paved the way for more competitive and fair elections in the country.

Other past dialogue teams in the country include; the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV), Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) and National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process (Agenda 4).

TJRC for example was established to investigate human rights violations and other historical injustices that occurred between independence in 1963 and 2008 following 2007/08 post-election violence that claimed more than 1,300 lives and left over 600,000 people displaced.

The commission's mandate included examining gross violations of human rights, economic crimes, illegal acquisition of public land, and other forms of historical injustices.

The TJRC aimed to promote justice, national unity, and reconciliation by uncovering the truth about past abuses and recommending measures to prevent their recurrence.

The commission concluded its work by submitting a final report with recommendations for reparations, policy changes, and other actions to address the identified injustices.

Disputed 2007 presidential election

The Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV), also known as the Waki Commission, was also established in Kenya to investigate the causes and effects of the violence that erupted following the disputed 2007 presidential election.

The commission was chaired by Justice Philip Waki and was mandated to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the violence, establish the roles played by state security agencies and other actors and recommend measures to prevent future occurrences of such violence.

The Waki Commission's final report, released in October 2008, provided detailed accounts of the violence, identified key perpetrators, and recommended significant reforms to Kenya's electoral, judicial, and security systems.

One of the key recommendations was the establishment of a special tribunal to try those responsible for the violence, failing which the cases should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

On the other hand, the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) was established to review and provide recommendations for the comprehensive reform of Kenya's constitution.

It was tasked with conducting a thorough review of the existing constitution, engaging with the public to gather their views, and drafting a new constitution that would reflect the aspirations and needs of the Kenyan people.

Its work culminated in the drafting of a new constitution, which was subjected to a national referendum.

The process faced several challenges and delays, but it ultimately contributed to the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010 which introduced significant changes, including a more decentralized government structure, enhanced checks and balances, and stronger protection of human rights.

These teams and commissions have been instrumental in addressing various political, social, and constitutional issues in Kenya.

There was also the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process (NDRP) which was initiated following the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

The process was mediated by a panel led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan under the auspices of the African Union.

The NDRP aimed to address the immediate crisis and lay the foundation for sustainable peace and reconciliation in Kenya, leading to the formation of the Grand Coalition Government between then President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga who was named Prime Minister, ending weeks of violent protests.