Ruto, Raila headed for fresh battle over Parliament talks

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

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio leader Raila Odinga. The two leaders are on a new collision course barely two days after calling a political ceasefire amid countrywide mass protests.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga are on a new collision course barely two days after calling a political ceasefire amid countrywide mass protests.

Mr Odinga yesterday spurned an offer by the Head of State to have the Opposition’s grievances addressed by a bi-partisan team in Parliament, instead calling for a process similar to the National Accord of 2008. 

The talks were brokered between Mr Odinga and then President Mwai Kibaki to stem the violence that followed the announcement of presidential election results that declared the latter to have won re-election. 

Speaking after a meeting with the coalition leaders at the SKM Command Centre in Nairobi yesterday, Mr Odinga took issue with Dr Ruto’s statement on Sunday, arguing that it fell short of what had been agreed upon by their team of negotiators. 

The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party, Mr Odinga said, had resolved to push for the formation of a team comprising MPs and other professionals from outside Parliament. He signalled a return to the protests should the two teams fail to agree. 

“We assure our people and Kenyans that our eyes are firmly on the ball and reiterate that we shall go back to the people at the earliest sign of lack of seriousness by the other side,” he said. 

This was the first time the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader was revealing that negotiators from President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and his Azimio had been holding talks before the ceasefire on Sunday. 

“The team of emissaries from both sides had met and I want to state that it was the other team that first reached out to us,” he said. Mr Odinga did not, however, reveal the identities of the said emissaries or when and where they had been meeting. He said this did not concern the media even as Nation established that Azimio spokesperson Prof Makau Mutua was one of the negotiators. 

Mr Odinga’s statement yesterday signalled a hardening of positions, even as President Ruto also insisted that the talks will only take place through a parliamentary framework. 

No handshake

Addressing a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda yesterday, Dr Ruto ruled out a “Handshake” with Mr Odinga, referring to a pact the Opposition chief made with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2018. 

William Ruto

President William Ruto addresses participants during the official opening of the 2023 Social Protection Conference at the Kenya School of Government in Nairobi on April 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

While fielding questions from journalists during a joint press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Dr Ruto said: “I want to tell you there will be no handshake, but there will be an engagement in Parliament on the issues that have been raised. Those that Parliament can resolve will be resolved.” 

He said his only mission was to ensure that the country’s democracy is not undermined. 
“We have a government and Opposition. Kenyans want a democracy where a system of checks and balances works,” he said.

“Unfortunately, for us in Kenya, a handshake has a different connotation. [It joins] the Opposition and the government [in] a mongrel ... outfit that is undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal,” said Dr Ruto. 

“The history we have of a handshake is where there was a fusion of government and the Opposition and the results were disastrous. There wasn’t any accountability, the whole system went rogue, and the people of Kenya do not want a situation where democracy is undermined,” Dr Ruto went on to explain.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing journalists during Azimio Parliamentary Group Presser

Azimio leader Raila Odinga (centre) addressing journalists during Azimio Parliamentary Group Presser at Kalonzo Command Centre, Nairobi on April 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

But the ODM leader dismissed claims that he is interested in having a “Handshake” deal with President Ruto.
Mr Odinga said talks of a “Handshake” were the creation of President Ruto and his allies. He singled out Deputy President Rigathi for criticism.

“We have never talked about the Handshake. That is the language that has been coming from the other side. [Tell] Mr Gachagua [that] I do not want to shake his hands,” said Mr Odinga.

He said he is only focused on having the issues they raised addressed. He, at the same time, divulged that he has never met President Ruto over the stalemate but they communicated through emissaries.

Mr Odinga, who was flanked by other coalition principals; Ms Martha Karua, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Eugene Wamalwa and Mr Wycliffe Oparanya stressed that all the issues they have raised carry equal weight “although the high cost of living must be addressed urgently.”

Medical bills

“In this regard, we resolved that the regime must take immediate steps to bring back the cost of unga to Sh100 as at the time of the election. We further resolved that Kenya Kwanza must take immediate steps to lower the cost of fuel and put a freeze on the recent increase in the cost of electricity. These are not matters for a committee,” said the ODM leader. 

He also challenged the State to pay or waive all medical bills of victims of police brutality, including journalists, and funeral costs for those who lost their lives.

Mr Odinga also touched on a demand to audit the 2022 election servers, saying, “Electoral reforms are urgent and necessary for future elections and that fidelity to the letter and spirit of multi-party democracy should be upheld”.

Additional reporting by Kevin Cheruiyot