Ping-pong between the President and Odinga in the wake of alliance rumours illustrate a relationship built on shaky political grounds.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled to meet with ODM leader Raila Odinga, days after a key ally of the former prime minister met with Deputy President William Ruto and hints of a new coalition emerged.
The DP’s meeting with Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya on Wednesday, followed by the one where Mr Odinga hosted the county chief, have set tongues wagging. There are concerns that Mr Odinga could be planning to sever ties with his Handshake co-principal, President Kenyatta. Those close to Mr Kenyatta hinted that he is concerned that if the ODM leader embraced Dr Ruto, the Building Bridges Initiative to amend the Constitution would be threatened, in the end puncturing the President’s legacy and redrawing the succession matrix.
A Ruto-Raila partnership may also prove a headache in Parliament for the BBI Bill since the two have a considerable chunk of loyal troops there.
Our sources in both camps said yesterday that the meeting, other than exploring ways of steadying the BBI ship, would also discuss the possibility of opening up the country soon to enable Parliament and the electoral commission fast-track the reform agenda.
“I heard about it (the meeting) also but I don’t think it has happened yet,” Jubilee party vice-chairman and Mr Kenyatta’s confidante David Murathe told the Sunday Nation.
The refreshed camaraderie between Mr Odinga and DP Ruto has sent shockwaves in the political landscape and sparked off a series of high-level meetings. President Kenyatta’s handlers are concerned that since Mr Odinga has not come out to dismiss the talks as untrue, he is helping them gain traction and currency. The Ruto-Oparanya meeting was also attended by former Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri and Mr Rashid Echesa, another ex-minister.
Dr Ruto recently referred to ODM as one of the few parties with a national outlook, to the surprise of those who never thought he would ever have such kind words for a party he once accused of being firmly rooted in violence. In the same interview, he said he was open to the idea of working with Mr Odinga in the next polls.
The urgent session between Kenyatta and Odinga, we gathered, was also about “the health status of the Handshake” in the face of conflicting signals from their allies, especially those on the Odinga wing.
An ODM lawmaker said the meeting had been planned for Saturday (yesterday) or Sunday (today), and that Mr Kenyatta appears keen to know Mr Odinga’s take on the swirling speculations.
“They may not release photos to the public like you have seen others do, but yes, a meeting had been scheduled for this weekend,” he said, adding that there was need to reassure the bases of the two politicians that all was well.
Mr Odinga has in the past said he is not open to discussing the 2022 election and whether he will run for president until after the BBI agenda is concluded. What appeared as a confirmation that he will be in the race was when party organs announced that he had applied to be considered as a torchbearer two weeks ago, only for them to do an about-turn and say he never applied.
Mr Murathe said they would wait to hear from Mr Odinga himself if indeed he was in secret talks with DP Ruto.
“Oparanya is telling us it was a chance meeting and at the same time saying that Jakom (Mr Odinga) was aware. Others are also telling us that Oparanya is not with Jakom — now what do you believe? We will wait and hear from the horse’s mouth,” he said.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that the two meetings rattled Mr Kenyatta’s camp, with the President’s advisors saying that such an alliance would send them back to the drawing board as it would mean losing both, who are influential political players.
Mr Murathe, however, maintains that the rapprochement between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga is stronger than before.
“I take my brief from only two people, Uhuru and Jakom, and I can tell you the Handshake is intact,” he said.
But should their succession game come to naught, some of the President’s men have no qualms with the Ruto-Raila alliance if it still ends up making Mr Odinga the president.
“And by the way — tongue-in-cheek — if they want an alliance, provided they make Jakom the president, we have no problem with it. That’s the only thing we may want to know because our job is to make sure the country is peaceful, and that the legacy of a united country is kept,” Mr Murathe said.
The country’s political architecture is dotted with a vicious battle of wits that is being characterised by night meetings as leading presidential contenders try to put their best feet forward.
A lot of cards are also under the table as different players seek to outdo those they consider a threat to their ambitions.
Observers find it curious that the Ruto-Oparanya meeting was hugely publicised. So was the one Mr Odinga had with the Kakamega Governor on Friday.
“A lot of meetings happen in this town but you’ll never see photos unless the participants themselves want you to. Often, photos are released to test the waters, to gauge the public mood. Sometimes they are a sure way of getting the message to the intended audiences,” political science lecturer Tom Mboya argues.
The Maasai Mara meeting between Ruto and Oparanya saw the DP enquire about the situation in ODM and whether the party is working on any alliances ahead of the 2022 general elections. They also discussed the economy, according to the governor.
“I told him that as the deputy party leader, we had not made any move on alliances,” Mr Oparanya said.
In the ODM playbook, a source said, the scheme is to make it known to Mr Kenyatta that they are not without options; that he is at liberty to play Mr Odinga once changes to the Constitution go through; but that he will only make it easier for them to team up with Dr Ruto, who has an axe to grind with the President for going back on his word to back him in 2022.
As the President comes under ‘firepower’ from ODM, the One Kenya Alliance comprising Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi and Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula is also jostling for his support and eventual backing at the ballot.
A day before Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga inspected projects in Nairobi, the President was said to have been scheduled to meet with leaders of the alliance but the meeting, an aide of one of the principals said, was cancelled under unclear circumstances.
One Kenya also ensures that whenever they have a brainstorming meeting, they release photos to the public, like they did on April 3. They, too, are keenly following reports of a possible Raila-Ruto alliance as it could stoke further realignments even in their own camp.
DP Ruto, in reaching out to Mr Odinga, could be trying out two things: one, if the ODM leader agrees to his charm offensive; and if he is willing to forgo his presidential ambitions.
But the main aim, his handlers told us, is to have Mr Kenyatta mend fences with his deputy before the presidential elections. They argue that any inclination by Mr Odinga to work with them may end up projecting him as untrustworthy, and that way, Mr Kenyatta may choose his ‘former love’. The DP is keen to inherit the vote-rich central Kenya, the President’s backyard.
Much as Mr Kenyatta needs the Orange party to his corner in his last stretch in the office, the cooperation has also accorded Mr Odinga time away from active opposition politics to replenish energy in the event he chooses to run again.