Ruto-Raila talks: Technical panel given till Friday to set agenda

Kimani Ichung’ wah

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’ wah (left) and Minority Leader James Opiyo Wandayi at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi on August 15, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The technical panel of the National Dialogue Committee has until Friday to agree on the agenda before the bipartisan parley between President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza and Mr Raila Odinga's Azimio can begin.

This was the agreement struck yesterday after the 10-member committee that is co-chaired by Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka (Azimio) and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wah (Kenya Kwanza), met for the third time at the Bomas of Kenya to assess the progress of the technical team.

This means members of the technical team from both sides will have to work together to consider and harmonise all the issues raised by Azimio and Kenya Kwanza for approval by the committee on Friday.

The approval of the agenda will then form the basis of the negotiations, the outcome of which may lead to legal, political and administrative interventions by the government.

At yesterday's meeting, all members of the dialogue team were present except Mr Musyoka and Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot.

The two were said to be out of the country on various missions.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, the Minority Leader in the National Assembly, stood in for the absent Mr Musyoka.

Last week, the National Assembly passed a resolution, which is set to be deliberated on by senators — who are on recess — during a special sitting on Tuesday next week, to shield the mandate of the dialogue team from any foreseeable legal challenges.

Speaking at the Bomas of Kenya after yesterday's meeting, Mr Wandayi and Mr Ichung'wah said the technical team would meet daily until Thursday for deliberations to agree on the issues that will form the agenda of the negotiations.

"They will frame the issues for discussion until Thursday and then join us on Friday when we will meet," Mr Wandayi said, adding that Mr Musyoka and Mr Cheruiyot would be available at the next meeting.

National Dialogue Committee

The technical team includes former Ndaragua MP Jeremiah Kioni, political scientist Dr Adams Oloo, Ms Zein Abubakar and Ms Lynn Ngugi from the Azimio side.

The Kenya Kwanza technical team consists of Mr Muthomi Thiankolu, Ms Linda Musumba, Mr Nick Biketi and Mr Duncan Ojwang.

The technical team was formed and co-opted to work with the National Dialogue Committee.

Its mandate includes preparing the agenda for discussion and reviewing the framework agreement for the bipartisan talks to incorporate the decisions of the negotiating team.

In addition to Mr Ichung'wah, the Kenya Kwanza team at yesterday's meeting included Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Hassan Omar and Ms Catherine Wambilianga.

Apart from Mr Wandayi, the Azimio side included former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, Nyamira Senator Okon'go Omogeni and Malindi MP Amina Mnyazi.

Last week, the technical team was tasked with drafting the agenda for the committee's consideration, following a briefing on each side's expectations, and charged with synchronising the two sides' proposals.

The formation of the dialogue team came after days of nationwide anti-government protests following the disputed results of the August 9, 2022 presidential election.

However, it is not yet clear how the technical team will come to a consensus on the sticking points, given that their respective dialogue teams have sharply disagreed on the issues raised by their opponents.

This is despite the fact that neither Azimio nor Kenya Kwanza are willing to budge from their hardline positions. The Azimio side wants the government to address the cost of living, audit the results of the August 2022 presidential election and restructure the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Constitutional issues

Mr Odinga’s group is also pushing for measures to prevent interference with political parties by the government and the need to address outstanding constitutional issues —governance, checks and balances and delimitation.

On the other hand, Kenya Kwanza wants the IEBC reconstituted, the two-thirds gender rule implemented and the National Government - Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) enshrined in the Constitution.

There is also a push for the creation and constitutional entrenchment of the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary.

Interestingly, Azimio does not see the issues raised by Kenya Kwanza as urgent to resolve the political stalemate that led to the countrywide demonstrations.

Notably, the Opposition side has threatened to resume street protests if a solution is not found by the end of this month.

But Mr Ichung'wah has been dismissive, saying, the dialogue committee would not be distracted by "the political noise out there".

"What is said out there will not determine our discourse. We will ignore all the noise," Mr Ichung'wah said.

He also noted that the 60 days within which the dialogue team must complete its work will begin to count once the Senate approves the motion to establish the dialogue team.

Although the two sides disagree sharply on the issues to be discussed, both Mr Ichung'wah and Mr Wandayi described the ongoing dialogue as satisfactory and successful "so far", despite the fact that they have  not agreed on the critical issues for the start of the talks.