Fight over venue, time threaten Raila-Ruto talks

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichunghwah and Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka who are leading the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja teams in the talks. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenyans are being treated to a fresh round of circus over the bipartisan talks.

The second round of talks supposed to have started this week has been preceded by squabbles over venues, time, and threats of street protests that mirror events that led to the collapse of an earlier bid to reconcile the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition and Azimio parties

The start of the bipartisan talks has yet again hit a snag after the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance requested to have the inaugural meeting pushed to Thursday.

Both Kenya Kwanza and the Azimio la Umoja coalition teams were to meet on Monday following an invitation by the latter’s team leader and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka for talks at the Serena Hotel.

But in a rejoinder, Kenya Kwanza counterpart and National Assembly majority leader Kimani Ichunghwa, through a statement, requested for the meeting to be pushed forward to allow for some housekeeping business within his camp. 

“…While appreciating the urgency to embark on the talks, it is worth noting that having just constituted our team, we had a scheduled debrief on Monday with our team in order to prepare for the talks and a further engagement with the Bi-Partisan team and their assisting counsels on Tuesday, August 8, 2023. We, therefore, seek your kind indulgence and propose that we schedule a joint first meeting on Thursday, August 10,  2023, at 10 am,” read the statement in part.

Ichungwa also shunned the idea of meeting at Serena Hotel and instead proposed the use of public facilities such as the Kenya School of Government to avoid “reckless accumulation of public debt” by the State.

“Cognizant of the prevailing economic conditions and the need for austerity measures both at individual and collective levels, with the view of mitigating the high cost of living, we respectfully request your team to allow the two teams to schedule our meetings at public venues such as County Hall which I would be happy to engage the Parliamentary Service Commission to make available or in the alternative at the School of Government - Kabete,” said Ichungwa.

Adding, “Your Excellency Sir, it is our considered view that these are venues that will not occasion any additional expenditure to the public and which would otherwise be available for such public meetings at little or no cost to us or to the Kenyan taxpayers as opposed to the luxurious five star Serena Hotel- Nairobi.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. Azimio holds that the bipartisan talks should stick to the 30-day deadline. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

In any case, since we are only discussing matters that concern the people of Kenya, we believe such matters should be in open public spaces.”

Both camps are however yet to agree on contentious issues such as the matters for debate ahead of the talks even as the opposition insists that the talks be bound by the framework agreement used in the recently flopped talks.

And as they meet, the first order of business will be to decide on the co-chairs of the bi-partisan team with Kalonzo and Ichungwa expected to take up the said positions by virtue of being delegation leaders.

The team will also craft a secretariat and agree on the framework of engagement for the talks paving the way for the deliberations to commence.

Divergent views on the issues to be discussed however threaten to stall the talks even before they begin.

The ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance is insisting on the talks centering on the reconstitution of the IEBC Commission, implementation of two-thirds gender rule, the entrenchment of constituency development fund, establishment and entrenchment of the Office of the Leader of the opposition, and the embedment of the Office of Prime Cabinet Secretary.

On the flip side, Azimio has reiterated that the cost of living, an audit of the 2022 Presidential Election results, restructuring and reconstitution of IEBC and related matters, measures to prevent interference with political parties as well as other outstanding constitutional matters will be their priority.

President William Ruto speaks during the opening of Githurai Market in Kiambu County. [PCS]

Whereas both parties seem to have agreed on a majority of issues, it is that on the cost of living, and an audit of the 2022 presidential election results that are sticking out.

The Azimio faction also holds that the talks should stick to their 30-day deadline.

“We further reiterate that the issues for discussion from our side remain as indicated. We have taken this step because we believe time is of the essence. While a lot of hard work will be needed to resolve the issues at hand, we believe a speedy start and a time-bound programme is necessary to put the nation at ease. Consequently, we believe this process should come to an end at the close of August 2023,” read a statement from the Azimio side.

Fear is however abounding among President William Ruto’s allies who are concerned that the talks might be used to invite the opposition into government.

Ichungwa has allayed the fears saying there shall be no discussion on the formation of a coalition government.