Kenya Kwanza, Azimio form technical committee to harmonise agenda for talks

Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah, jointly chair the committee. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

After weeks of grandstanding, shouting, street protests and threats, the ruling Kenya Kwanza and the opposition on Wednesday went to the negotiation table.

The timing and the setting of the talks was symbolic as the negotiators trooped to Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on Wednesday, exactly one year after the country went to the polls.

It was at Bomas, the venue of the bipartisan talks that the presidential results were announced, triggering a bitter tussle which spilled into the streets in the form of protests and has finally culminated into talks.

When the much-anticipated talks started Wednesday, the parties formed a  technical committee that will decide the agenda of the 10-member dialogue committee between the government and opposition, as they are still split over the talks' agenda.

During the initial meeting to discuss the ground rules, the members Wednesday resolved to form a technical committee to harmonise the issues for discussion in the talks that resume on Monday.

The yet-to-be-established committee will comprise a secretariat provided by Parliament among other members.

Kenya Kwanza and Azimio have only agreed on the reconstitution of the electoral commission, a process already underway.

Raila Odinga's Azimio wants the talks to focus on the cost of living, audit of last year's elections, inclusivity in national affairs and respect for political parties.

President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza wants the talks to be about the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule as a key agenda, the entrenchment of the Constituency Development Fund in the Constitution, the establishment of the office of the leader of the opposition, and the embedment of the office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary. 

For weeks, Azimio and Kenya Kwanza have sharply differed on the discussions, casting doubt on whether the process would take off.

But in a coming together of sorts, Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa, who jointly chair the committee, described Wednesday's meeting as successful.

Kalonzo said that both teams were "generally in agreement" that the talks should happen, stating that the technical committee would sit on Friday and write its report so that the talks start next week.

"We will work as a team and we are adopting the bipartisan framework, but with amendments... there has been a demonstration of good faith on both sides," the Wiper leader said adding the process was time-bound. Azimio wants the talks concluded in 30 days.

The bipartisan framework Kalonzo had referred to defined the rules of engagement between the flopped process and the dispute resolution mechanisms. Like the previous panel, the current committee agreed against discussing their negotiations in public.

"We are engaging on the basis of mutual respect and these talks will be in the interest of Kenyans. We can't afford to fail on this process. We may agree on some issues and disagree on some but we will engage in good faith," said Ichung'wa.

The Kikuyu lawmaker, who was late to the meeting owing to an engagement in Nyeri, had earlier vowed against having the cost of living and a handshake as part of the discussions.

The talks, which were to begin at 11.30, kicked off minutes after 1pm, with the media locked out of the main discussions, only attending the introductory session.

The National Assembly Majority Leader had been vocal that the Press would be allowed full access to the deliberations to allow Kenyans to follow the proceedings.

During the initial session, Kalonzo and Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, who had sat in for Ichung'wa as co-chair, said the discussions would not focus on personal issues, even as they both shunned a possible handshake that has set the Mt Kenya region on edge.

"We shall not negotiate any form of power-sharing with the Kenya Kwanza Alliance or put any personal interest ahead of the interest of the people," the Wiper leader said in a speech that also promised "sacrifice and compromise".

"We are here because we know our country is more important than anything else. The president sent us here to find solutions to the issues on the table," said the Embu governor. 

Tiaty MP William Kamket and a host of Members of Parliament presented a petition before the committee on the establishment of new counties.

The mood was generally cordial, with both parties marching together along the aisles at the Bomas of Kenya, freely joining their counterparts even in what seemed like closed-door sessions.

The talks are a result of a truce between Raila and Ruto, brokered a fortnight ago by former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo.