Parallel Madaraka, fresh demos mulled as Azimio plots faceoff

Raila and Uhuru

Then President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga in this photo taken on April 21, 2022 during the inaugural Azimio la Umoja Coalition Party Council meeting at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) that was chaired by President Uhuru. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Former President Uhuru Kenyatta sharply in focus as he us expected to play key role in opposition messaging.
  • Azimio to hold a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday and announce plans.

Retired president Uhuru Kenyatta is on Tuesday expected to join opposition leader Raila Odinga in a key meeting that will mark the escalation of a showdown with President William Ruto, and which will have on the table the possibility of holding a parallel Madaraka Day event on Thursday.

The retired president is expected to join Mr Odinga in a planned Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party parliamentary group meeting at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF) in Nairobi, as the opposition protests against Dr Ruto’s actions, including what they say is a planned coup in Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.

The Tuesday meeting is also expected to give a way forward on the return to street protests, following what the opposition sees as lack of goodwill from the Kenya Kwanza side on the bipartisan talks arising from the August 2022 election stalemate where Mr Odinga has refused to recognise Dr Ruto as the winner.

The parliamentary group meeting also comes in the week the National Assembly resumes sittings, with the Finance Bill 2023 – the first full budget by President Ruto – expected to take centrestage.

The Tuesday meeting will reveal strategies to be used by the opposition to push back against “punitive tax plans”, top among them including a push for public voting where each MP will be called out and the choice made public.

This way, the opposition plans to “expose” the MPs that they said would have gone against the common man by voting for the tax plans.

Similarly, there are plans by the opposition to draft its own parallel Finance Bill to outline issues and ways Dr Ruto’s government would have avoided “over-taxation”.

But if push comes to shove, the Tuesday meeting will also lay out plans to “divide Kenya into two” in 2017-like secession plans that the opposition sees as a last resort.

Yesterday, Mr Odinga signalled the showdown, saying the push by Azimio principals was not a personal agenda – as most of the issues were not a “personal threat to us” – but was out of their public service for the good of the people.

“Like my counterparts in Kenya Kwanza, I can afford the costly unga, fuel, electricity, paraffin and sugar, among other expensive items. But I know millions of Kenyans can’t. I also know the high prices, compounded by poverty and a regime that does not care, is a toxic mix waiting to explode. In speaking out, I am trying to pre-empt the worst for Kenya,” Mr Odinga said in a statement.

He went on: “In calling out a regime that has made it a policy to hire based on their tribes, Raila Odinga is not speaking for himself. I am speaking for those families in Kenya where children or parents are failing to get jobs because they are from the ‘wrong tribe’.”

In the statement, Mr Odinga insisted that Dr Ruto did not mean well for Kenya.

“Kenya Kwanza has two options: face and listen to Kenyans or ignore them and face a battle never seen before in this country,” the opposition boss said.

The Azimio executive council’s chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said all was set for the crucial meeting.

“Our meeting is on schedule for Tuesday this week at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation. We will inform the public on our next course of action,” Mr Oparanya told the Sunday Nation.

The former Kakamega governor expressed concern over the issues affecting Kenya, among them the high cost of living which will be complicated further if the controversial Finance Bill 2023 is passed in Parliament.

In a plan to counter the opposition’s plans, the government is reported to have invited Mr Kenyatta to attend the Madaraka Day celebrations to be held in Embu County on Thursday.

Mr Kenyatta’s attendance would play a key role in asserting the legitimacy of the Kenya Kwanza administration, even though his close sources intimidated him might not attend due to “other engagements”.

But on the other side, Azimio wants him to avoid the meeting, saying his presence in the Tuesday parliamentary meeting will send a strong message to the government that he is still firmly within the Azimio despite calls from Kenya Kwanza.

Failure to it, the hardliners in Azimio say he should instead relinquish his role as the Azimio council chairman.

The presence of Mr Kenyatta is also to send a strong message to the government over its interference with the affairs of the Jubilee Party.

The meeting comes at a time when his Jubilee is engrossed in leadership wrangles that now cast doubt on the legality of the national delegates’ convention held on May 22 at Ngong Racecourse.

Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu is yet to effect any chances via a gazette notice after embattled secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni submitted the resolution. Instead, she served him with her decision in acknowledging the communications by the Kanini Kega-led faction.

In the Tuesday meeting, the coalition is expected to announce its formal withdrawal from the bipartisan talks committee and give its supporters a way forward.

It could also mark the lapse of the seven days that the Azimio team in the bipartisan committee gave while withdrawing from the talks last week, citing irreconcilable differences on four of their items.

The Azimio teams suspended the talks on Tuesday, citing irreconcilable differences on fundamental matters of interim issues.

A member of the committee confided in the Sunday Nation that President Ruto’s reference of Ms Chege as the Jubilee Party leader during last week’s parliamentary group meeting at State House angered the coalition luminaries who told their troops to withdraw from the talks.

“The same person who has sent his people to come and negotiate with us is the one calling Sabina Chege a party leader. What is he trying to show us? He is openly telling us that we are wasting time with these talks,” a source in the committee shared.

Azimio is also angered by the ongoing recruitment of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners despite being one of the main issues on the table that the coalition wants addressed.

Dr Otiende Amollo, the co-chair of the Azimio team in the bipartisan talks, has rejected a meeting scheduled for 2pm on Monday.

But in response, his Kenya Kwanza counterpart George Murugara, the Tharaka MP, says the bipartisan committee has no powers to suspend the recruitment of the IEBC commissioners.

He, however notes that, as the co-chairs, they can write to the selection panel to consider suspending the process for 30 days as the talks go on.

On the preservation of servers, Mr Murugara says the committee did not agree on such interim measures because IEBC is not properly constituted at the moment.

“Our argument was that such a directive would be an exercise in futility as there are no IEBC commissioners to receive such a directive,” Mr Murugara said.

He refuted claims that Kenya Kwanza has been negotiating in bad faith, instead accusing Azimio of always coming up with threats in the form of demands.

“The Kenya Kwanza side has always negotiated in utmost good faith. I regret to point out that it is Azimio that has clearly demonstrated bad faith in spite of Kenya Kwanza bending forward and backwards to accommodate Azimio’s demands, some of which have been nothing but outright blackmail and thinly veiled threats,” Mr Murugara said.

Dr Amollo maintained that he will not honour the Monday meeting unless there is a formal communication from the Kenya Kwanza side that they have acceded to their four issues that they raised.

“You cannot talk during the suspension of the talks unless we receive a formal communication that our conditions on the four issues have been met,” Dr Amollo said.

“Having invoked Clause 37 after a full plenary of the committee, the talks stand suspended and even the co-chairs cannot engage in talks in the meantime. Our respectful view is that the only way to further the talks and prevent automatic dissolution by Tuesday May 30, 2023 is if the Kenya Kwanza Alliance communicates its willingness to accept the four interim measures sought by our side as conservator measures,” Dr Amolo said.

According to clause 37 of the framework agreement guiding the bipartisan team, in case of a dispute, the committee will adjourn for seven days as the team strives to build consensus.

“If the parties cannot agree within seven days of suspension of the talks, either party may give notification of the dissolution of the talks,” reads clause 38 of the framework agreement.

Since the seven days given by Azimio team elapse on Tuesday, the fate of the talks which had not only tackled preliminaries and were set to delve into substantive issues now hangs in balance.

Dr Amollo termed the letter by Mr Murugara calling for the Monday meeting as undiplomatic and which “does not foster any kind of engagement and negotiations”.

According to the Rarieda MP, the letter by the Kenya Kwanza team signifies their justification for declining to give in to any of the issues raised by Azimio coalition.

“We take note that the entirety of your letter under reference constitutes additional justification for your disinclination to accept any or all of the interim measures proposed by the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition. As such, it does not assist or aid towards reaching consensus,” Dr Amollo said.

While withdrawing from the talks on Tuesday, the Azimio team says the failure by the Kenya Kwanza side to accede to any of their interim demands means that they will be negotiating in vain.

“To the extent that each of the four interim measures mirror a substantive issue as raised by ourselves, unwillingness and inability to concede to any is at best a demonstration of lack of good faith or at worst a prior notice that your team will be unwilling or unable to address the substantive issues raised. Either way, it would suggest that we will be dialoguing in vain,” Dr Amollo stated.