Secrets of Ruto, Raila talks with former president Obasanjo

Kalonzo and Ichung’wah

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung’wah during the resumption of the bipartisan talks at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on August 9. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto ruled out negotiation on the cost of living during his meeting with Opposition leader Raila Odinga in the presence of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nation can reveal.

A meeting between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition lead negotiator Kalonzo Musyoka and key officials of Jubilee has also brought to light new demands and competing interests that could derail the negotiations scheduled to commence in earnest today.

During the meeting, Mr Musyoka revealed that the President was categorical that the issue of high cost of living, which had been the catalyst for opposition-led street protests, would not be open for discussion by the 10-member National Dialogue Committee since the Finance Act, 2023 that contains new tax measures is in court.

“Ruto put it before Obasanjo and Raila that cost of living cannot be part of discussions. His argument was that the matter is in court. But we are prepared to go full hog on some of these issues,” Mr Musyoka said.

This revelation implies that the talks would now largely revolve around electoral commission reforms, entrenchment of the Office of Prime Cabinet Secretary in the Constitution, creation of the office of official leader of opposition, two-third gender principle and entrenchment of National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF).

Intrigues that informed Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga’s decision to appoint the 8-member technical committee were also laid bare in the afternoon meeting.

It emerged that Mr Odinga had initially suggested a six-member negotiation team — three members from each side. But the two leaders later settled on a 10-member team (five from each side) after Dr Ruto’s proposal.

Exclusion of Jubilee Party from the committee and subsequent protest by its officials later compelled Mr Odinga to reach out to Dr Ruto to increase the number to 12.

The President is said to have rejected the suggestion but instead proposed creation of a technical committee, which accommodated Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni, according to Mr Musyoka. This was in response to claims by Jubilee officials that the party was sidelined in the talks.

On Thursday, August 24, three members of the technical team told Nation the team had largely agreed on the broader agenda of the talks.

The members, who did not want to be named, said the National Dialogue Committee would agree on the finer details of the agenda items in their deliberations when they convene today.

They said substantive negotiations would be on reconstitution of IEBC, boundaries delimitation and entrenchment of the office of the leader of official opposition and office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary.

Other agenda items agreed on by the team by yesterday are entrenchment of NG-CDF, creation of National Government Affirmative Action Fund and the Senate Oversight Fund.

“The progress seems to be useful so far. As a technical team, we have agreed on the agenda. All the issues have been harmonised. We have had amicable meetings,” said one of the members.

But the Opposition team wants Mr Musyoka to demand the suspension of the sittings of the IEBC selection panel that has been in office since February and a demand by Jubilee that nominated MP Sabina Chege relinquishes her National Assembly Deputy Minority Whip post before the talks can progress.

Jubilee had settled on Embakasi West MP Mark Mwenje to replace Ms Chege. But she moved to court to block her removal from the leadership position.

“It is easy to arm-twist the other side to commit to some of these demands before the talks can begin. If we don’t succeed in these demands, then as Jubilee we have no reason to engage with people who want to take away our party. Tomorrow we have an opportunity to demand these interim measures,” a senior Jubilee official told Mr Musyoka.

The official went on: “We want them to make a commitment that they are going to allow Jubilee function. If they have the goodwill, they have to allow Mwenje to take up the slot in the National Assembly.”

The opposition is also demanding that charges against some of its leaders stemming from the streets protests be dropped.

Azimio has also raised concerns over utterances by some Kenya Kwanza leaders, saying such remarks should not be taken lightly.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently said: “Nothing will come out of those talks. It is a waste of time. I’m telling you as deputy president of the Republic of Kenya.”

But National Assembly Majority Leader and Kenya Kwanza team lead negotiator Kimani Ichung’wah asked Kenyans to ignore talks by politicians.

“What is being said out there will not determine our discourse. We will ignore all the noise,” he said.