Did Ruto corner Raila in Mombasa?

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga and President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Questions have been raised about what was discussed at the meeting that took place last week between President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga.

Conflicting statements released by Azimio and Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza over the agreed agenda and how the talks will proceed under the conciliation of former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo has only caused more confusion.

First, why didn’t Obasanjo himself release the statement detailing the agenda of the talks he is expected to oversee? Alternatively, should Ruto and Raila have released a joint communique over the matter?

Questions have also been raised as to why Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Kimani Ichungwah chose to go first in releasing the agenda of the talks instead of making it a joint statement by getting Azimio House leader Opiyo Wandayi to also sign on the dotted line.

Sources within Kenya Kwanza, however, insist that the agenda released by Ichung’wah is exactly what was agreed after Raila sat with Ruto and they will be expecting nothing outside that during discussions.

“The President called immediately after the talks and briefed me on what they agreed. You can call Obasanjo and ask him if what I released is not what they agreed,” said Ichung’wah.

Some political analysts think Ichung’wah’s statement may indeed be a fair reflection of what may have transpired largely because of Raila’s lack of dexterity when involved in one-on-one boardroom meetings.

“He is not very argumentative in one-on-one meetings, the way he performs in public platforms. And so, people like President Ruto who know him very well can take advantage of that,” says political analyst Martin Andati.

The former ODM operative was, therefore, least surprised with Ichung’wah’s statement despite the fact that he is a hardliner whose word is treated with a lot of suspicion and mistrust by neutrals.

Azimio swiftly dismissed Ichung’wah’s statement the following day, Sunday last week, saying it did not give the true reflection of what was discussed by the three leaders.

“We will be setting a joint agenda when the teams meet with Obasanjo. It does not matter if Ruto cornered Baba at the Mombasa meeting because our team is properly briefed,” said an outspoken Azimio MP yesterday.

The Kikuyu MP claimed last Saturday that discussions would only revolve around the reconstitution of IEBC and the never-ending discussion on the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule and the other issues captured in his statement.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichunghwah. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

According to the statement, they will also tackle the entrenchment of the Constituency Development Fund, establishment and the entrenchment of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and embedment of the Office of Prime Cabinet Secretary. 

The following day, upon consultation with Raila, Azimio leaders led by Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua released their own statement limiting discussion items to four.

Their four-point agenda listed talks on the cost of living, electoral audit and reforms, non-interference in coalitions and their constituent parties and a probe into police brutality that has claimed dozens of innocent lives.

There appears to be a wide gulf that needs to be breached by the two sides even before the talks kick off next Thursday, a date slated by Ichung’wah in a letter to Kalonzo, who is the Azimio team leader.

Wait-and-see approach

Several Azimio MPs, who we spoke to yesterday over the level of seriousness exhibited by Kenya Kwanza in the talks, expressed caution, choosing to take a “let’s wait and see” approach.

One, however, said it was not strategic for Raila to have gone to Mombasa. He should have instead send Kalonzo and other principals or other interested parties like religious leaders and waited to put pen to paper with Ruto when the talks are finalised.

“Some of us are wondering what is going on because we are still burying those who were killed by police and yet there appears to be a rush from our side for no apparent reason as the other side shows some arrogance and reluctance,” said the MP from the Azimio side. 

Political analyst and pundit Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University thinks there was never a desire or willingness from Kenya Kwanza to engage in any meaningful discussions.

He argues that Kenya Kwanza should have picked more senior people like Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua or Speaker Moses Wetang,ula after Azimio proposed Kalonzo, a former Vice President, to lead its side. Instead they have presented Ichung’wah, Senate leader of majority Aaron Cheruiyot, Bungoma Woman Rep Catherine Wambilianga, EALA MP Hassan Omar and Embu Governor Cecilly Mbarire.

The Azimio side has Kalonzo, DAPK party leader Eugene Wamalwa, leader of minority Opiyo Wandayi, Kilifi Woman Rep Amina Mnyanzi and Kisii Senator Okong’o Omong’eni.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Prof Naituli thinks the talks will be complicated but other actors working from behind the scenes with Obasanjo may force the voice of reason to prevail the way the 2008 Serena talks were concluded.

“They got Obasanjo here from Nigeria and I’m seeing other actors like the US, UK and EU in this process, playing a role both in facilitation and probably in deciding the already contentious agenda setting,” says Naituli.

And so these external forces will play a role in calling both parties to order, especially the Kenya Kwanza side which has shown some lack of seriousness in the tweets they have been sending to the other side.

This week, Kalonzo sought to hasten the process and proposed in a letter to Ichung’wah that they kick off the talks on Monday to which the MP responded through a cheeky tweet.

“As Agreed, we will consult over a cup of tea to find a mutually agreeable date, time and venue,” tweeted Ichung’wah.

“I know for a fact that Hon Kalonzo has ML Ichungwa’s number. What is it with long letters again? How difficult is it to then call up and agree on preliminary issues such as the time and venue of the first meeting? Let’s be serious kidogo,” Cheruiyot tweeted. 

On Friday, Ichungw’ah finally replied to Kalonzo but sought an extension of the date of the first joint meeting to Thursday, August 10 at 10am, saying they had already scheduled a debrief of their just-constituted team and another one for Tuesday with the bipartisan team and their assisting counsels. 

And while Kalonzo had suggested Serena Hotel as the venue, Ichung’wah has proposed County Hall or the School of Government Kabete, saying this will allow members of the public to attend and also save public funds. 

But it is the tone of the letter and his reiteration that they will not entertain issues of a private or personal nature (audit of IEBC servers) as well as any issue that undermines any arm of government or decisions of any arm of government (Finance Act 2023 and hence cost of living), that indicate the dialogue talks are set to be stormy. 

Former Nigeria President Olesegun Obasanjo. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

But as this happens, it appears there is some disquiet in Azimio on the composition of the Azimio talks team after people in some quarters complained that it lacks a representative from the Mt Kenya region.

Responding, Saboti MP Caled Amisi told off the complainants saying the dialogue team is not a resource or positions distribution cabal but a team of men and women picked to represent the coalition in the mediation talks.

He asked: “Where does the idea of kikuyus being left out come from? Let’s stop the nonsense of always pitting others against the kikuyus all the time. You have made mzee to be hated for no apparent reason. Stop it. This is absolute gibberish. Tribalism is equal to imbecility.”

Azimio’s wrong move

Prof Naituli thinks Azimio should never have asked for any talks because they can continue campaigning on the cost of living platform which as past trends show will not subside over many years. He thinks the government is concentrating so much on importing food, yet that only creates more problems of unemployment and poverty by using taxpayers money to pay for labour in other countries.

This week barely a day after President Ruto acknowledged holding talks with Raila, he called a press briefing at State House in the presence of governors from maize-growing regions to explain how his government was dealing with the cost of living.

Analysts argued the president was keen to show that some of the issues the opposition wants addressed are already being dealt with by his government, yet the cost of maize meal and sugar is getting out of reach of the ordinary Kenyan.

The idea of both sides talking was first mooted early in the year when Azimio wanted to have discussions outside parliament comprising a team of seven from either side in a dialogue similar to the 2008 Serena talks.