President Yoweri Museveni
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Revealed: How Ruto-Raila Uganda surprise meeting was planned

President William Ruto (left), Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kisozi, Uganda, on February 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

Details have emerged of how President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga planned a surprise joint meeting with Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni on Monday that has stirred public discourse in Kenya.

According to insiders, the secret meeting at Museveni's Kisozi farm, now dubbed 'cow diplomacy', saw Ruto and Odinga meet where they reportedly discussed the latter's bid for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC).

Although Odinga revealed that President Museveni had approached him a few days ago for a joint meeting with President Ruto to discuss "deepening regional integration within the East African Community", the Nation was engaged in behind-the-scenes maneuvers to reach out to the Ugandan leader "for a truce following the recent dispute between Kenya and Uganda over oil imports in exchange for his crucial support. 

President William Ruto

President William Ruto (left) and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kisozi, Uganda, on February 26, 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

"He (President Museveni) is the 'dean' of the region and key to the regional mobilisation strategy," a source in Odinga's team told the Nation on why it was crucial to meet President Museveni to pave the way for Odinga's AU bid.

Odinga, who was in Namibia for the burial of former President Hage Geingob, reportedly flew his delegation straight to Uganda on Monday while President Ruto flew from Nairobi to the neighbouring country.

Sources within the presidency who confided in the Nation confirmed that the President was accompanied by Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir and Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) Director General Daniel Kiptoo. Although President Museveni didn't attend President Geingob's funeral, it is reported that regional leaders who were present asked President Ruto what he had done to offend the region's strongman. 

Ruto is said to have reached out to Raila, who had honoured Museveni's invitation, to also "smoothen the ground" and resolve the simmering diplomatic row between the two nations over the controversial government-to-government oil deal.

"They discussed the stalemate over Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) being denied access to Kenya's oil pipeline, that was the main agenda," a source in the presidency with knowledge of the talks revealed.

The confidant said President Ruto promised to resolve the issue and ensure that UNOC gets the licence to use the pipeline, adding that this was the thorny issue that Odinga's presence helped resolve. "After the meeting, Ruto and Odinga flew back into the country separately," a government source told the Nation.

Both Ruto and Odinga confirmed the discussion on the AUC top job, but Odinga didn't mention the oil issue.

"Crucially, at the insistence of President Museveni, we also discussed my candidature for the chairmanship of the African Union Commission. I am very grateful to President Museveni for strongly endorsing my candidacy and to President Ruto for fully supporting it," Odinga said. 

The President, for his part, weighed in on the oil issue, saying on his former Twitter page that he was happy that the issues affecting the flow of petroleum products between Kenya and Uganda were being resolved.

"We agreed on a way forward to sour and schedule imports for the region in a manner that will ensure we achieve the most competitive prices and maximum logistical efficiency," Ruto said.

He disclosed that their meeting also touched on the urgent need for the two countries to pursue the design and construction of the previously conceptualised Eldoret-Kampala-Kigali petroleum products refinery pipeline.

While elaborating on his meeting with Presidents Museveni and Ruto in Uganda, Odinga revealed that his candidature for the top AU post was discussed.

President Ruto on Tuesday confirmed his plans while in Homa Bay, noting that he is ready to work with all leaders who are willing to work with him for the sake of the people of Kenya. 

"When I came for the campaigns, I slept here. There are things I told you and you thought it was a joke, now you can see it's no joke. I told you that we would plan everything and that nobody would be a loser. I said that I would plan and make sure that everyone gets their share. We pray that it will be like this," said President Ruto.

"We want to unite the country; we want to work together for the unity of the country. There is room for all of us in Kenya, you do not win by making others lose. We belong to one nation and we have one goal to make Kenya a great country to bequeath to our children who will come after us," said the President who, unlike in the past, was accompanied by several ODM leaders at the investment conference in Homa Bay.

On Monday, President Ruto announced that Kenya and Uganda were committed to deepening long-standing diplomatic and economic ties.

Moments later, President Museveni also issued a statement confirming the meeting.

The surprise meeting between President Ruto and Mr Odinga came barely a week after Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Dr Korir Sing'oei revealed that President Ruto planned to unveil Mr Odinga's candidature for the AUC post this week.

Insiders pointed to the first signs of camaraderie between President Ruto and Odinga as an indication of what Kenyans should expect in the coming weeks.

"As you saw yesterday, Mzee also hosted the first Kenya Kwanza Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa - the CS for Gender Affairs - for an update with the multi-sectoral working group on the two-thirds gender rule. 

"This is a clear indication of a working arrangement that has since started and we should expect more," a source in Mr Odinga's camp revealed.

The two-thirds gender implementation was one of the key issues during the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) deliberations by President Ruto and Odinga's teams.

On Tuesday, Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga also held a meeting with Odinga. The meeting also puts to rest claims by Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi in Odinga's Bondo backyard in Siaya County last month that a surprise announcement was imminent.

While attending a church function in Bondo, Siaya County on January 28, the PCS, who is also the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, hinted at a "surprise important and pleasant news" that he said would soon be revealed.

"I want you to look at me very closely. Soon we will surprise you with some very important and pleasant news. I will say no more; I will leave it at that for now. But watch this space," Mudavadi revealed.

In an interview with the Nation, Mr Mudavadi cautioned against statements that could trivialise Odinga's bid for the AUC post.

He said it was time for the country to come together and speak with one voice in the wake of his quest for the top AU seat.

Some leaders have accused Odinga of "keeping them in the dark" about his bid, while others from Mt Kenya region claimed former President Kenyatta was the best choice for the post.

Mudavadi said there was need for leaders to exercise caution when making statements, warning that local differences should not be played out in the regional arena.

"People should not externalise their frivolous domestic interests. We should learn that there is always a time to rally behind the interest of the country," Mudavadi told the Nation. He noted that Kenya's bid for the position was for the good of our country and "we must not externalise our local political differences.

"Monday's meeting in Uganda could also end the growing hostility between Kenya and its neighbour over the petrol import deal. Uganda's decision to exclude Kenya from its new oil import deal in 2023 was seen by some as a sign of growing hostility between President Ruto and President Museveni.

The decision was expected to cost Kenya up to $100 million a year it had been earning from handling Uganda's petroleum and related products. About 40 per cent of the fuel Kenya imports is exported, mostly through Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

In November 2023, minutes revealed the fallout between Kenya and Uganda over the secret Gulf fuel deal. According to the minutes, Uganda voted to dump Kenya's oil marketers in favour of UNOC, further straining relations between Kenya and Uganda.

In what could be seen as retaliation, Kenya refused to grant the Uganda National Oil Corporation (Unoc) a licence to operate as a local oil marketer. In his defence, President Museveni said the decision was necessary because middlemen were inflating prices by up to 59 per cent, causing avoidable pain to consumers.

In December 2023, Uganda took Kenya to the East African Court of Justice after Nairobi denied the neighbouring country's state-owned oil marketer a licence to operate locally and handle fuel imports destined for Kampala. 

There was also open hostility between the two countries during the 60th Jamhuri Day celebrations, which President Museveni did not attend, with the Kenyan government saying that Museveni, along with Tanzania's Samia Suluhu and Rwanda's Paul Kagame, were not invited to the event.

The absence was interpreted as a sign of deteriorating relations between Kenya and other EAC presidents, but Dr Ruto clarified in a joint interview with journalists last December that they were not invited. In September 2023, Museveni skipped the African Climate Summit held in Kenya where President Ruto hosted 14 African presidents.

His absence also hinted, albeit indirectly, at the standoff between the two presidents.