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Raila-Ruto fixers and secret talks

 Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga and President William Ruto during a past event in Kisumu County. [DPPS, Standard]

In politics, nothing happens by accident, and if it does, you can bet it was planned that way.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga seems to have given credence to this maxim by former United States President Franklin Roosevelt by way of his 'run in' with US Senator Chris Coons at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday evening.

Raila said he was headed to the United Kingdom for a week-long private visit while Coons was flying back to the US after meeting President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi.

"Our paths crossed again last night with my friend Senator Chris Coons heading home to the US while I left for the UK. Wished each other safe flights, hoping to see each other again. Always a pleasure Chris," Raila wrote in a Facebook post.

Earlier in the week, the duo had met for an indoor meeting, for the purpose of "exchanging notes".

According to Raila's Communications Director Dennis Onyango, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party leader will use his time in UK to rest and meet family and business associates.

"Raila Odinga left the country last night for a one-week business and private visit to the United Kingdom. During his stay in the UK, he will meet friends, family members, and business associates. He will also use his stay in the UK to rest and relax, which he doesn't do enough back at home. He will return to Nairobi at the end of next week," said Onyango.

Coons' visit in the country is significant in the Kenyan political context as it comes at a time when the State and the opposition are engaged in bipartisan talks aimed at steering the country forward following a divisive general election in 2022.

The presence of a man who brokered the 'handshake' between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila in 2018, is bound to generate controversy at a time there has been talk of rapprochement between the opposition and the government.

His mission in the country has been closely guarded and has been interpreted by many as the West's attempt to broker yet another bipartisan solution between President William Ruto and Raila.

His "run-in" with Raila, therefore, coming hours after he met the president at State House in the presence of US envoy in Kenya, Meg Whitman who the opposition has dismissed as "rogue' speaks volumes.

It is seen more as a "debrief" between the duo than an accidental meeting between the two leaders before going their separate ways.

Raila's visit to the UK has also sent tongues wagging, thanks to its timing. The Azimio leader jetted to the UK weeks after Uhuru announced that he and his family will be in the same country for holiday, for an unspecified period of time.

Uhuru, who is the Azimio party patron, during a meeting with editors on July 24 announced the trip shortly after police raided the home of his son Jomo in Karen. Uhuru jokingly cautioned that the trip should not be mistaken for him fleeing the country.

According to a travel advisory leaked from the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, Uhuru was to travel to UK alongside 15 members of his family on August 2, 2023.He would be there for an unspecified period of time.

Could Raila and Uhuru be meeting in UK to take stock of the political happenings, and engage in a political ammunition-gathering mission on whose outcomes they plan to lean on in their future engagements with President William Ruto's regime? Time will tell.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu has also, in the recent past, been sucked into the power politics in Kenya and The Standard recently established that she had been in Kenya on invitation to broker peace between President Ruto and Raila but left frustrated because one of the parties refused to meet her.

Suluhu met Raila at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club on July 12 and 13 (Wednesday and Thursday) amid the then ongoing anti-government protests.

Raila would later claim that Ruto denied her audience in a bid to frustrate planned mediation talks. What raised eyebrows, however, was President Ruto's subsequent visit to Tanzania only a day after Raila had claimed he had snubbed her mediation offers. HE too announced his meeting with Suluhu via a tweet.

Ruto had announced that his visit to Dar es Salaam was to attend the Human Capital Summit, to discuss harmonization of labour policies in the East African region. He also extended an Olive branch to Raila, saying he was available to deliberate on the crisis once he returned.

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

What has followed was a private meeting between President Ruto and Raila in Mombasa chaired by former Nigeria Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo. Details about the meeting have remained scanty with both the opposition and Kenya Kwanza quick to give their own version of event.

Pundits however argue that the recent unfolding of events, however coincidental they might seem, were planned that way to keep Kenyans guessing and the political top brass engaging.

"There is no such thing as coincidence in politics. Ruto and Raila have already reached an understanding but what is bothering them is how to deliver the message to their political allies. Raila is worried about Martha Karua and Kalonzo Musyoka while Ruto is worried about his deputy Rigathi Gchagua," says history professor Macharia Munene.

He avers that what Senator coons and others are doing is to keep both Raila and Ruto talking to ensure that they hammer out a deal for their lieutenants who should also be seen as benefit from the talks.

"All this is happening to make sure that Raila and Ruto have enough time to craft a way to keep their supporters happy and avoid the political backlash that comes with the announcement of another handshake," he added.

Lawyer and governance expert, Javas Bigambo terms the recent occurrences as manufactured coincidences to conceal the fact that the talks were just a convergence of the political interests of the leaders.

"It is possible that Raila was given details of Coons departure and he used it to get one-on-one feedback and strategic information by Ruto from Coons," says Bigambo.

He added: "Kenya is a strategic country and the recent political upheavals affected the region's commerce thus the mediating efforts from neighbouring countries."

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