Raila camp fires final warning shot to Ruto over talks

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

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters in Eastleigh Nairobi on March 20, 2023. Mr Odinga's camp has fired a final warning to the government that successful talks are the only remedy to mass action even as the focus shifted to Parliament to urgently pass a motion granting legitimacy to the bi-partisan committee.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Azimio chief Raila Odinga’s camp has fired a final warning to the government that successful talks are the only remedy to mass action even as the focus shifted to Parliament to urgently pass a motion granting legitimacy to the bi-partisan committee.

Opposition leaders say they will not act on the hardline positions of the government side but will decide whether their rivals are keen to resolve the political crisis once the committee gets down to business. If not, they vow to resume anti-government protests.

A day after President William Ruto chaired a meeting of Kenya Kwanza MPs that named the government’s seven representatives, and declared the only agenda for the talks is the recruitment of electoral commissioners, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leaders cautioned the negotiations were entering a “delicate stage.”

The opposition, which insists addressing the high cost of living, the opening of presidential election servers, protection of multiparty democracy and inclusivity in civil service appointments are its four-key grievances, yesterday asked the President to rein in hawkish allies who are poisoning the atmosphere for the ceasefire talks. 

Mr Odinga yesterday said in their Town Hall engagement today, they will hold multi-sectoral leaders meeting at Ufungamano House.

“We shall chart a path for Kenya’s salvation, engage all Kenyans in making our nation great — veterans, human rights activists, intellectuals, faith-based organisations, trade unions, farmers’ associations, small businesses and other civil society organisations,” he said.

He pointed out that the coalition rejects “President Ruto-controlled Parliament.”

Today’s meeting, he noted, seeks to “unite Kenyans, seek solutions to national problems, develop a road map for national transformation and brighter future for ourselves and future generations.”

Azimio principals Eugene Wamalwa and Wycliffe Oparanya said the talks had entered a delicate stage, adding that it was now prudent to accord the joint committee time to draw its work plan, even as they resume their Town Hall meetings today and people’s baraza on Sunday to brief the public on the ongoing process.

Mr Wamalwa assured they will give dialogue a chance and will only return to mass action “if we sense some lack of seriousness as the talks formally begin”.

“We gave our team the terms of reference and I’m sure Kenya Kwanza has also done the same. So let’s now give the teams time to engage and, of course, as they engage, they will agree on the joint terms of reference and agree on the rules of engagement and have a work plan, a roadmap from commencement to conclusion of the talks.

“Let Kenyans be patient and allow the teams to now engage but if in the course of these talks, we realise that Kenya Kwanza are not serious or have not come with clean hands or lack good faith, then we will have no choice but to revert to mass action,” Mr Wamalwa told Nation yesterday.

Not worried

Mr Oparanya, the Azimio executive council chairman, said they were not worried about Kenya Kwanza’s insistence that they will only discuss the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

“Both sides will come with their demands and that’s why there is negotiation. It is a process, we have to take the names to the National Assembly and Senate for adoption, terms of reference will have to be agreed on and we shall brief the public accordingly,” said Mr Oparanya.

He, however, warned demonstrations will be their recourse should their opponents frustrate the talks. 

The two leaders said the war of words is unhelpful at this stage.

“You remember the tone the Kenya Kwanza leader (President Ruto) used while asking our leader and team to call off the talks. It was a tone full of humility, maturity and sobriety, and respect. In fact, the words he used are ‘my brother’ and my ‘friend’ Raila Odinga,” Mr Wamalwa said.

Kenya Kwanza legislators led by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa

Kenya Kwanza legislators led by National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung'wa addressing a press conference at State House, Nairobi on April 11, 2023, after a Parliamentary group meeting chaired by President William Ruto. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“So we expect his subordinates to use the same tone and have respect in terms of engagement with us from now on because we are entering a very delicate stage to address challenges that are facing our nation,” said the Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K) leader.

The twin motions in the National Assembly and Senate are expected to be moved by the respective Majority leaders — Kimani Ichung’wah and Aaron Cheruiyot — who are among those who have adopted hardline positions on the talks.

Yesterday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua also sustained attacks on Mr Odinga, alleging he instigated protests to blackmail the President to share power.

“The President is not ready to meet with Mr Odinga to discuss on how to share the government,” Mr Gachagua said in Embu.

Mr Oparanya explained the audience at today’s Town Hall meeting in Nairobi will be drawn from the civil society, clergy, select politicians and representatives from the public to get their views on the state of affairs ahead of Sunday peoples’ baraza at Kamukunji grounds.

The leaders who spoke as representatives in the bi-partisan talks disclosed that the dialogue will begin as soon as Parliament passes the motion to form the ad hoc committee to grant the organ legitimacy.

The chairman of the Azimio side, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, yesterday told Nation their engagement will begin once the Kenya Kwanza team names its leader.

Regarding the government side’s insistence on addressing only the IEBC matter, Dr Amollo said: “We cannot comment now because those are preliminary issues that will be discussed by the bi-partisan committee.”

“Regarding their commitment to the talks as raised by some members, again that will be a preliminary matter for discussion. All those issues, including objections on the composition of the team, terms of engagement, time frame and the scope of work will be part of the preliminary discussion so I wouldn’t want to comment on them now,” added Mr Amollo.

Senate Majority Whip Boni Khalwale, a member of the government team, urged patience from Kenyans, promising sobriety in their deliberations. “Going forward, we will be communicating to the country as a team of 14. If we start communicating as Kenya Kwanza on one side and Azimio on the other, then that is the beginning of killing the process,” Dr Khalwale noted.

He said there is a need for the team to only communicate things they have already agreed on and avoid public disagreements on contentious issues.

Tharaka MP George Murugara, a member of Dr Khalwale’s team, said the government side also has its terms for the talks.

“These will crystallise as soon as the committee begins its sittings,” explained Mr Murugara, who is also the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) chairman.

Nominated Senator Essy Okenyuri also urged for patience, saying they will communicate the date for their first meeting.

Kibwezi West MP Mwengi Mutuse, who is also the JLAC vice-chair in the National Assembly, told off Azimio for questioning his Kenya Kwanza membership.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi had taken issue with the inclusion of Mr Mutuse (Maendeleo Chap Chap) and Eldas MP Adan Keynan (Jubilee) as negotiators for Kenya Kwanza, insisting they were opposition members.

ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna, a member of the opposition’s negotiating team, also questioned the government’s commitment to the talks, citing the insistence on a purely Parliamentary process and the inclusion of Mr Keynan.

The Nairobi Senator also claimed the government is not committed to lowering the price of unga, which he noted is a ‘deal breaker’.