Senate to give nod to bipartisan team

The Senate

The Senate building in Nairobi on May 24, 2020. 

All eyes will be on the Senate today as the lawmakers reconvene for a session that is meant to formally establish the 10-member National Dialogue Committee.

Senate Speaker Amason Kingi recalled the House last week for a special sitting to consider a motion to establish the team that is tasked with finding a political settlement following a hotly contested 2022 elections.

This is after the National Assembly two weeks ago approved a similar motion to provide legal backing to the bipartisan team. 

This comes against the backdrop of enhanced political posturing between  the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance and opposition outfit Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party.

The approval of the motion by both Houses of Parliament would grant legal support, enabling the MPs to authorise any legislative or constitutional interventions suggested by the negotiating team.

The dialogue team last week established a framework agreement, which is expected to be signed tomorrow after the Senate passes the motion in support of the ongoing talks, setting in motion a 60-day timeline to complete the ongoing dialogue.

The passage of the motion will also open the talks to the public with the team expected to collect views and receive submissions starting next week.

The team will also engage experts, professionals and other technical resource persons as necessary. Thereafter, the committee shall table report before the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio leadership within 60 days before the report is taken to Parliament for approval by MPs. 

But political grandstanding by the two sides threatens to derail the process. Addressing a political rally in Kajiado over the weekend, Azimio leader Raila Odinga said the opposition would return to street protests should the talks collapse.

“Let Kenyans know that although we have agreed to dialogue, we will mobilise our supporters back to the streets if the talks led by [National Dialogue Committee co-chairs] Kalonzo Musyoka and Kimani Ichung’wah fail,” said Mr Odinga.

The former prime minister was reacting to remarks by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who described the talks as “futile and meaningless to Kenyans”. President William Ruto, in reply, criticised Mr Odinga for threatening to resume anti-government protests. He said the government would not allow such demonstrations.

But a section of opposition leaders reminded their Kenya Kwanza counterparts that they have many strategies they can resort to should their colleagues succeed in derailing the talks.

Former allies of Mr Odinga accused him of acting in bad faith by threatening to call for fresh anti-government demonstrations. Ex-Nyatike MP Edick Anyanga said there was no point  in proceeding with the talks if Opposition leaders believed there would be no breakthrough.

Azimio and Kenya Kwanza each named five members to the bipartisan process. Aside from Mr Musyoka, other members of the opposition team in the committee are former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, Nyamira Senator Okong’o Mogeni and Malindi MP Amina Mnyazi.

On the government side, Mr Ichung'wah is joined by Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, East African Legislative Assembly representative Hassan Omar and Bungoma MP Catherine Wambilianga.

The committee will be supported by an eight-member technical team formed by the two camps and that is tasked with reviewing the framework agreement and framing of the agenda for the negotiations.

On the list of the agenda for the talks, Kenya Kwanza had listed the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), implementation of the two-thirds gender rule, entrenchment of the Constituency Development Fund, creation of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and entrenchment of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary in the Constitution.

Azimio wants the high cost of living, audit of the 2022 presidential election results, preventing interference with political parties and outstanding constitutional issues on governance, adequate checks and balances and delimitation of boundaries added to the list.

However, President Ruto ruled out negotiation on the cost of living, which had been the catalyst for opposition-led street protests, saying, the Finance Act, 2023 that contains new tax measures is in court.