Pressure is building on President Uhuru Kenyatta and his estranged deputy, William Ruto, to lower political temperatures among their passionate supporters by burying their political differences.
Religious leaders, political allies and community elders are now pushing for reconciliation of the two most powerful men in the country, saying their differences could entrench animosity between their followers ahead of next year’s elections.
The mediators argue that an UhuRuto Handshake, similar to the 2018 conciliation between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, is important to defuse building tensions and guarantee a peaceful 2022 General Election.
Hostility between the two leaders who now don’t see eye to eye went a notch higher towards the end of last week, when the deputy president’s security detail was downgraded at both his official and private residences.
The duo, elected first in 2013 on a Jubilee ticket, portrayed public bromance in their first term in office and even perceived hardliners among their close allies say a political reconciliation is not an impossibility.
The Kalenjin Myoot Council of Elders yesterday disclosed that they have started talks with their Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association (GEMA) counterparts to initiate reconciliation talks between the two leaders.
“We have started talks with our colleagues from the Mount Kenya region so that we can meet the President and his deputy and sort out their differences. Unfortunately, we are yet to reach them. What we want is a united country,” said Benjamin Kitur, Myoot chairperson, in an interview.
Similarly, the clergy in an interview confirmed they are pushing for Mr Kenyatta and his deputy to put aside their differences for the sake of peace in the country.
National Muslims Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) chairperson, Abdullahi Abdi, said the duo were not elected to display animosity in public.
“The clergy and religious leaders have got a responsibility to come in. We did this before in this country and it is not difficult. We are appealing to the top leadership to respect their positions and reconcile,” said Mr Abdi.
Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) General Secretary, Dr Nelson Makanda, supported the proposal saying the two leaders should keep their political differences away from the public eye.
“They might have differences and they are entitled to hold different opinions, but they (should) keep the belligerent politics away from the public,” said Dr Makanda.
The Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches and Ministries President, Stanley Michuki, on Sunday urged the President and his deputy to call a truce, warning that their differences were not healthy for the nation.
“We thank God for keeping our country intact despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising political temperatures. As religious leaders who pray for the stability and wellbeing of Kenya, we are concerned by the misunderstanding between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto,” Bishop Michuki told journalists at Praise Chapel in Kizingo, Mombasa.
Political leaders allied to the two are also already laying ground for a truce, but have set conditions that they want the president and his deputy to meet.
Central Kenya MPs allied to the DP want the President to desist from undermining his deputy and publicly acknowledge that he was a key plank that enabled him win elections in 2013 and 2017.
The legislators also say they do not want a Mr Odinga presidency forced on the Mt Kenya region, terming it as tantamount to committing 'political suicide’.
They want Mr Kenyatta to stop what they see as attempts to influence the Mt Kenya voting pattern in next year’s polls, and leave it for the people to decide.
They also want the president to convene a Jubilee elected leaders meeting, where they can freely air their grievances.
The unusual direct attacks on the President by Ruto’s allies in recent weeks have complicated the President’s dilemma as he tries to balance competing interests in his final term in office.
The option he chooses, it appears, could change the political landscape and define his legacy.
In interviews, the DP’s allies warn that the conditional reuniting with the President will not change their preference for the deputy president to succeed his boss next year.
“We have no problem whatsoever with President Kenyatta, he is our leader and some of us have supported him for quite a long time. If he has decided to come home and talk to us we are available. But he should let dialogue to prevail. It should not be like previous engagements that have been a monologue where he has been shouting at us,” said Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a key ally of the DP.
Kieni MP Kanini Kega of the Jubilee faction (Kieleweke) that is allied to President Kenyatta also said his camp is open to reconciliation talks with their rivals for the sake of Mt Kenya’s political unity.
According to him, President Kenyatta had asked them to reach out to other leaders in the region.
“As the Mt Kenya region, no door has been shut and everyone is welcome to come back including those who defected. The President asked us to work with all the leaders whose goal is the same as ours. To unite the region despite whichever side they are on. If people like Mwangi Kiunjuri, Martha Karua, Moses Kuria and others are campaigning for peace, then we will try and work with them,” said Mr Kega.
The Kieni MP, however, warned: “We will, however, not allow anyone to try and unite us so that they can sell us to other people, No, if that happens we will not allow it. But we need to unite the region.”
The reconciliation bid seems to be centred and emanating from Mt Kenya, as leaders allied to DP from both the Rift Valley and Western regions issued demands for a possible truce.
DP Ruto’s camp wants those who were axed from key positions such as Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate) and Aden Duale (National Assembly), majority whips Susan Kihika (Senate) and Benjamin Washiali (National Assembly), Former Jubilee deputy secretary-general Mr Kositany as well as various parliamentary committee chairpersons allied to Dr Ruto reinstated.
They also want the President to declare support for his deputy in next year’s polls before they embark to such talks.
On whether they can go back to the ruling Jubilee Party, the DP’s allies are divided down the middle as some feel that the party has lost grip of its support base while others are of the opinion that reuniting will rekindle the dwindling fortunes of the party.
“You have seen how tense the country is but they should not reconcile just for the sake of it. Pertinent issues that caused and continue to widen the drift must first be addressed. Issues of outright insubordination by juniors to the second in command, the purported transfer of power through the executive order must be revisited, and the place of opposition in the power structure must be clarified among other issues,” Belgut MP Nelson Koech said.
Aldai MP Cornelius Serem, another Ruto man, vowed that even if the President and his deputy reunite, they are not going back to the Jubilee party saying it has become personal property.
“David Murathe and Raphael Tuju confirmed that the party belongs to them, if the party belongs to individuals, how do you build somebody’s property? Jubilee cannot be rebuilt, there is no possibility, it is owned by few individuals,” said Mr Serem.
Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono told the Nation agres with Mr Serem, citing what he said was the humiliation they were shown by President Kenyatta’s side.
“We will never go back to the drawing board to rebuild Jubilee Party, in fact, our minds are somewhere else focusing on the next general election…we are not at all, Jubilee has been polluted and messed up, it is dirty and not salvageable,” said Mr Rono.
Mr Washiali said the unity of the ruling party can only be reworked if those purged from their positions are given back the positions they were holding.
“The structures of Jubilee as they were initially, should be maintained, nobody of Tangatanga hates the President and that is why we voted for him in 2013 and 2017 and we want him to finish his term successfully…even the coming up of UDA (party associated with DP Ruto) is because of his misbehavior, I was a member of National Executive Council (NEC), why was I removed?” posed Mr Washiali.
But Soy MP Caleb Kositany, who is also the DP’s de-facto spokesperson, does not see much of the new efforts.
“No, from where I sit, the President should only follow the Constitution and respect the Constitution, all will be well, the DP is not desperate for responsibilities,” Mr Kositany told the Nation.
According to Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, an ally of the President, they are not going to entertain demands from the Tangatanga team arguing that a truce, if any, should happen with no conditions.
“Tangatanga people have found where they had gone (to the DP’s camp) cannot work and what we have been telling them has come to pass, they are looking for way back home, their demands not worth but as the story of prodigal son, if they want to come back home, they are welcome. Which demands can they issue to the Head of State ?” Mr Kioni paused.
Jubilee leadership led by party’s deputy secretary general, Joshua Kutuny, said the DP’s allies are rebels and no such talks will take place.
He says that it is politically insensitive for the DP Ruto’s brigades to issue tough conditions to the Head of State terming it blackmail and open defiance.
“You cannot negotiate with rebels, we’re telling them that we are comfortable engaging team we have been engaging, if they know that they are strong enough than our team then they can go ahead…giving conditions before they engage the President I think that is not possible,” Mr Kutuny said.
“As a party, we have no plans to engage with the rebels and for us, we take them as our enemies, we have that room for negotiations, they better take it elsewhere,” he added.
The Cherang’any MP said it is hypocritical for allies of Dr Ruto to pile pressure on the Head of State to reconcile with his deputy when they have not interrogated what tore the relationship apart.
“Instead of asking the President to reconcile with his deputy, let them talk with DP to give the genesis of this escalating cold war between the duo, before that, these people should desist from playing politics with us,” said Mr Kutuny.
Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki, another ally of Mr Kenyatta, said the two leaders are supposed to reconcile themselves without their troops coming between them, just as they come together in 2013.
“There is nothing about giving demands to the President. The reconciliation should come from them because it is because of their own volition that they came together in 2013 and formed a government, it is like a family,” said Mr Mbiuki.
Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki and Woman Representative Beatrice Nkatha said the President had been politically misled and misadvised.
“We knelt down to the President and urged him to spare us the onslaught in the Senate but he could not listen to us. We are not political novices…. we are very bitter people and we will chase you with Mr Odinga if you bring him to us in 2022,” said Prof Kindiki at Kaanwa Catholic Church in Chuka/Igambang’ombe on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Stephen Munyiri, Alex Njeru and Regina Kinogu