Jitters in Azimio, Kenya Kwanza over plans for Ruto, Raila talks

"My friend Raila Odinga, am off to Tanzania for a human capital meeting to harmonise the expansion of employment opportunities in our continent. Am back tomorrow evening, and as you have always known, am available to meet one on one with you anytime at your convenience," the President tweeted.

Whereas the opposition leader dismissed the tweet saying if the president wanted to talk he knew where to find me, those in the know say a team has been put together to craft a deal.

In an apparent indication that the leaders will engage in dialogue, there are fears among members of the two rival teams of a repeat of the impugned 2018 handshake.

This is the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila that ended the post-election tension but soured relations between the Head of State and his then deputy, Ruto, as it soon created political orphans who had previously thrived in defending their masters.

Some leaders within the Kenya Kwanza administration gave a snippet of a deal that will keep the pace between Ruto and Raila. A three-member committee from the Azimio side is amenable to the deal, which provides among other things the introduction of the office of Official Leader of Opposition and shadow Cabinet Secretaries who will be facilitated by the State. There is also talk of a Cabinet reshuffle to include at least three of Raila's allies in government.

"This is where the bone of contention is, the President does not seem to have issues with the proposals for the purposes of stabilizing the country but the Deputy Presiden Rigathi Gachagua is apprehensive that the move will relegate him to a shadow position," an MP who sought anonymity said.

He said Gachagua fears that just as the Ruto was sidelined by former President Uhuru after the handshake, he too will be pushed to the periphery, a move that may bring confusion to the political arrangement of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

The MP argued that if the President had no intention of handshake, he would not have invited his Tanzania counterpart in Kenya for dialogue.

"The President was aware of Suluhu's visit but it was the pressure that made him change his mind," he said. Yesterday, the two heads of state met in Dar es Salaam but for the Human Capital Summit, meant to harmonise labour policies in the region.

Yesterday, Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni was categorical that although the Azimio leader had informed them about Suluhu's visit they were opposed to Raila-Ruto dialogue and instead want the agenda to revolve around the public welfare and not a handshake.

"We don't want a situation of 2007, 2013 when Raila had behind the curtain talks with Uhuru and the 2018 handshake, the dialogue must have a multilateral approach and also climax by involving Kenyans through a referendum to have equal distribution of resources," Kioni said.

He said it would be hypocritical for the Opposition to lead protests around the country on issues that affect mwananchi like the high cost of living and the controversial Finance Act 2023 only for the same to be sacrificed for personal interests.

"If this will lead to me being christened a hardliner so be it. I do not consume teargas for the sake of myself but for the sake of the suffering of Kenyans. The multilateral approach must birth a constitutional moment in our country to address issues that afflict Mt Kenya and other regions," he said.

Kioni, however, maintained Raila has been putting all the cards of Suluhu and possible talks on the table so far but the dialogue must involve all stakeholders to address inequalities to Kenyans and the country at large.

"When Suluhu jetted in we were informed and including my party leader (Uhuru Kenyatta) was aware. The meeting between Raila and Suluhu and the President was to happen in hotels... but we want that transparency to continue," he said.

In Raila's camp, there are fears that he may dump his allies the way he did after the handshake with Uhuru.

Mt Kenya is unhappy with the choice of the team to spearhead the talks which includes Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Former Defense Minister Eugene Wamalwa and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo.

"This has caused discomfort in our team because despite some of us supporting his (Raila) cause, by being left out in the menu we shall not have food," one of the leaders allied to Azimio in Mt Kenya region said.

Speaking on Spice FM yesterday, Amollo, who is the co chair of the bipartisan talks committee, said the President and his deputy had different views and ideas about dialogue with the Opposition, a move he said had raised fears in government and the opposition.

"It is the same fears that led to failed bipartisan talks. There is a difference of thought between the President and Gachagua on dialogue and they fear that any dialogue might put them in jeopardy in future," he said.

He maintained that he had not received instructions from his boss to demand for a handshake or nusu mkate saying the talks should be aimed at addressing issues in the 2022 General Election.

"If the issues in the 2022 General Election remain unresolved they will double in future elections. Why would we ask for nusu mkate while we could get a whole bread if servers were to be opened?" posed the MP.

On the Kenya Kwanza side, Gachagua's close associates indicate that if Ruto entertains dialogue with Raila he will manipulate the process and get in the government through the back door, a move that will compromise their development agenda.

This group, led by Mathira MP Eric Wa Mumbi and Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga, said they will oppose any handshake saying Raila can only talk to the President as an ordinary Kenyan and not about the composition of government.

"He can only call State House to plead with the President to provide blankets to the senior citizens from his backyard and not anything close to the composition of government because we shall oppose," Wa Mumbi told The Standard on phone.

Wamatinga said: "We will not sit and wait for a replica of 2018 because we are wise."

In May, Gachagua categorically stated that he would not allow a handshake between the President and Raila saying that if things went haywire, he will be to blame.

"I will not allow the President to have handshake with Raila. If Ruto has such plans I will not allow because I will be the one to blame if things go wrong," he said.

A week ago, the DP slammed their advisors and the international community for piling pressure on the President to negotiate with the Opposition.