Opposition leader Raila Odinga stuck to his guns in a meeting with a United States delegation seeking a truce, as it emerged Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua flatly rejected any overtures to have him join the government.
While Mr Gachagua demanded that Mr Odinga stops the protests and agrees to discuss his permanent retirement from politics before the talks, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader wants the government to accede to discussing what his camp has now crystallised as its four key, non-negotiable demands.
The four Azimio demands are the reduction of the high cost of living, the opening of last year’s presidential election servers for audit, stopping the unilateral reconstitution of the electoral commission and respecting multi-party democracy to allow all parties to flourish without the government enticing opposition legislators to its side.
And while Mr Odinga’s team is said to be free to discuss the details of how the four key issues will be resolved, they are unflinchingly unwilling to take any of them off the table, in case of any talks.
Mr Gachagua, too, ruled out any deal in the form of the 2018 'Handshake' Mr Odinga had with former President Uhuru Kenyatta, in which the former prime minister secured government posts for his allies, although he did not benefit himself.
US officials led by Delaware Senator Chris Coons — credited for playing a part in the Odinga-Kenyatta 2018 Handshake — and US ambassador Meg Whitman met Mr Gachagua on Wednesday morning before meeting Mr Odinga in the evening.
They were yesterday scheduled to meet Mr Kenyatta and President William Ruto, who arrived back in the country early yesterday.
It is unclear if the two meetings happened, or are still scheduled to happen.
“We presented our four irreducible demands that are in the public arena. He took them and said the country should remain peaceful and we told him that our demonstrators will continue to be peaceful as we press for our demands,” Azimio coalition’s spokesperson Prof Makau Mutua told the Nation yesterday.
In the meeting, Mr Odinga reportedly warned US President Joe Biden’s government against any efforts to back what he termed as the emergence of a “fascist state” in the country.
A fascist state refers to a regime that stands for a centralised autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition. Prof Mutua disclosed that Mr Odinga expressed his disappointment with the leading democracies and their response to the Kenyan situation.
“We are very concerned about what appears to us to be complicity with the Ruto regime,” Prof Mutua said.
The Azimio team, Prof Mutua said, pressed for what he said was “more robust engagement by Western embassies, especially the United States, to press the government to respect the rights of Kenyans and to respond to the emerging fascist state in Kenya.”
He also revealed that Mr Odinga expressed his concerns about the Western nations’ “silence over the government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, their silence on the invasion of private property with the complicity of the State, especially the Northlands property of the former Head of State and his (Mr Odinga's) Spectre International Ltd.”
“Their silence is deafening, and I would say that what concerns us most is not what our enemies do or say but the silence of our friends. They have been our friends for many years, but now their behaviour makes us believe they are aiding and abetting a regime that is sliding into a republic of fear,” added Prof Mutua.
Mr Coons, Prof Mutua noted, did not make any demands to the opposition, but “supported the right to protest within the constitutional framework.” But other sources said the US officials expressed concerns the protests were ruining the economy and needed to be called off as a good gesture.
Mr Gachagua, speaking in Mombasa yesterday, maintained his hardline stance, insisting that he had told Mr Coons’s delegation and the Catholic Church —after a meeting bishops had with Mr Odinga on Wednesday afternoon — that a Handshake was not on the table.
“We have told our international partners and church leaders that we are willing to sit down with Raila Odinga, but not to discuss his forcible entry into government. We cannot violate the Constitution; it has no provision to facilitate Raila Odinga to enter into government through the backdoor,” said Mr Gachagua in Mombasa yesterday.
“The only way to get into government is through the ballot. Raila has gotten away too many times through such threats. Unfortunately for Raila, President Ruto and I do not buy fear. Come to the table where we will only discuss one thing — your retirement and permanent exit from politics.”
In the meetings with Mr Odinga, Senator Coons is reported to have expressed concerns over what the current political state had done to the country’s economy and appealed to the Azimio leadership to call off the protests.
Following what it sees as a concluded election, the US, according to the Nation, feels the current stalemate is getting in the way of the country’s big economic leap.
And yesterday, Ms Whitman, in a speech during the American Chamber of Commerce Regional Business Summit being held in Nairobi, said Kenya was the best business place.
“I arrived in Kenya days before the August 9, 2022 elections. What I witnessed is nothing short of remarkable. Kenya held what many analysts and commentators call the freest, fairest and most credible election in Kenyan history,” the US ambassador told the American investors and businesspeople in a Nairobi hotel. The group was also addressed by President Ruto yesterday.
Additional reporting by Anthony Kitimo