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Kenya Kwanza sets pace for 'talks before talks' as Azimio plays tough

 Azimio la Umoja's Raila Odinga during a press conference at the SKM Command Center regarding the bipartisan talks on April18, 2023. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

There is no end to the uncertainty surrounding planned talks between the government and the opposition as both sides blow hot and cold. 

Yesterday, Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya agreed to hold “talks before the talks”, which are, ostensibly, meant to set the ground rules for their engagement. 

The National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa wrote to the National Assembly Clerk Samuel Njoroge seeking a venue for talks “on the bipartisan process for a team of six to eight members”, scheduled for tomorrow.

The listed participants are Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja), George Murugara (Tharaka), Otiende Amollo (Rarieda),  Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) and Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo (Kilifi).

In what seemed to be a concession, Ichung’wa said he would reach out to his Minority colleagues to agree on the terms of reference “and what the committee is going to look into”, a contradiction of the hardline stance Kenya Kwanza had taken previously, insisting on discussions around the recruitment of electoral commissioners.

“I will be reaching out and writing to the minority leadership, both here and in the Senate, for us to have a forum... for talks before the talks... hopefully before the end of this week,” he said.

“I’m confident that working and reasoning with each other, we should be able to sit as leaders and come up with solutions and harmonise the motion and the terms of reference, and by the time the motion of the approval of that committee and its terms of reference comes to the House, we should not be in a situation where we are throwing words at each other.”

But in a move that threatens to scuttle the meeting, Amollo, who chairs Azimio’s side, yesterday invited committee members to the Serena Hotel. “Taking note that no person has, to the best of my knowledge, been appointed as Co-Chair for the Kenya Kwanza Coalition, and alive to the reality that time is of essence in this endeavour, I hereby invite you to an inaugural meeting of the Two Bipartisan Negotiation Teams at the Serena Hotel on 20th April 2023, starting 8am,” Amollo’s letter reads.

We reliably established that the invitation was sent to all members of the bipartisan committee except Eldas MP Adan Keynan. In Parliament, Wandayi cautiously welcomed the olive branch. “There seems not to be concurrence on the nature of these talks,” he said. “We are ready and willing to engage in these talks as long as they are as inclusive as possible and that they are not confined to Parliament.”

Nairobi Senator and ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna was categorical they would reject the meeting, given the coalition is proposing an “extra-parliamentary process”.

Earlier, the Azimio leadership had reiterated the call for talks outside Parliament and once again accused the Kenya Kwanza of playing down the talks. A statement read by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka accused President William Ruto’s administration of “bad faith”, stating that the President had gone back on the issues he had promised would be discussed.

“When Hon Ruto invited us for talks, he did not in his speech, capture the entire framework for talks as had been agreed upon with the emissaries he sent to us. This includes leaving out key issues on the cost of living and electoral justice, which are of utmost importance to us and the people of Kenya,” Kalonzo said after a meeting with the seven Azimio lawmakers that will represent the coalition in the engagements.

He was flanked by Raila Odinga and Martha Karua, among other Azimio leaders, at the SKM Command Centre in Nairobi.

Their gripe was a widely-circulated draft Motion that had set up a joint parliamentary select committee.

“The Motion is disguised as a product of bipartisanship when in fact the leadership of Azimio in Parliament were neither aware nor consulted in its drafting,” said Kalonzo. “The motion purports to name members of the Minority Party to the so-called select committee without any reference to the Minority leadership in violation of the Standing Orders of both houses.” 

He further faulted the draft Motion signed by Ichung’wa for ignoring the call for an extra-parliamentary process and limiting the scope of the discussions.

“The dialogue must be about all the four issues namely the cost of unga, fuel and electricity, forensic audit of the servers, bipartisan reconstitution of the IEBC, and respect for multiparty democracy,” he added, faulting Kenya Kwanza’s selection of Keynan.

He said Azimio had charged their team’s chairperson Amollo to reach out to the Kenya Kwanza team to establish the ground rules, doubling down on the threat to resume anti-government demonstrations upon the end of Ramadhan.

But the Motion was, seemingly, shelved as Speaker Moses Wetang’ula would instead communicate the list of representatives from the majority side, stating he was yet to receive the minority’s names.

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