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Azimio split fears as Uhuru pushes Raila to reject dialogue report

 Azimio leader Raila Odinga and former president President Uhuru Kenyatta during Jubilee Party National Delegates Conference on May 22, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Fears of a split between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga have emerged after the two political allies appeared to pull in different directions over the bipartisan talks report.

In the past few weeks, the former Head of State has launched an all-out charm offensive to keep the ODM leader close after the release of the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) report appeared to create a division within the Azimio coalition’s rank and file.

It is understood that the Jubilee party leader is not comfortable with any rapprochement between the opposition led by Raila on the one hand, and President William Ruto on the other, especially as regards the talks report.

In this regard, the former president has, twice in a month, brought together opposition leaders to discuss the dialogue talks that ended on November 29. And pronouncements by the former president’s allies have clearly shown dissatisfaction with any move that could lead to a closing of ranks between Raila and Ruto.

In fact, Uhuru’s confidant and Jubilee party vice chairman David Murathe was direct: The former president’s task has been to convince Raila to oppose the report, drafted by a team of Kenya Kwanza and Azimio members.

In contrast, however, the ODM leader is understood to have defended the findings, saying the opposition bagged three out of four issues that they were pursuing in the national dialogue.

Raila’s position was apparent during Monday’s meeting between with Uhuru and some Kiambu leaders.

“He (Raila) explained that the Azimio team pushed for the electoral reforms, political party democracy and independence and the push for increased revenue allocation -- all which their side bagged -- but explained that the Kenya Kwanza government refused to adopt their recommendation on the high cost of living,” a leader who attended the meeting told The Saturday Standard in confidence.

According to multiple sources led by Murathe, Uhuru was apprehensive that the Nadco report mirrors the annulled Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, only that it fails to address the ‘one-man-one-vote-one-shilling’ mantra spearheaded by some Mt Kenya politicians.

“Raila and Uhuru’s main push for the introduction of the BBI was mainly the revenue allocation formula. The Nadco report is a copy and paste of the BBI only that it does not contain the one-man-one-vote-one-shilling clarion call which will disadvantage our people (Mt Kenya region),” Murathe told The Saturday Standard.

Said Murathe: “You can’t be laid a trap by the government and then you fall into it headlong; Uhuru’s efforts seek to hold the Azimio la Umoja Coalition up to 2027 General Election”.

 Former President Uhuru Kenyatta. [File, Standard]

He however dismissed claims of a fallout in the opposition, describing the current unfolding of events as “a fundamental point of departure in terms of principle” and exuded confidence that all will be well.

Even as Murathe hopes that the Azimio will hold, a section of coalition members led by Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua together with Jubilee secretary general Jeremiah Kioni have opposed the Nadco report on the grounds that “it fails to address salient issues like the high cost of living”.

“Any purported agreement that does not immediately impact on the cost of living, electoral justice and respect for multiparty democracy is a fraud on the people and must be rejected,” said Karua.

Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa also opposed the report. “I didn’t and will not append my signature to the Nadco report and have not and will not accept any sitting allowance for the same because I believe we did not do justice to the single most important issue to Kenyans; the cost of living”.

On his part, Kioni maintained that the Nadco report only addressed proposals raised by the government and disregarded everything brought to the table by participants.

“Any time we demanded that the issues be addressed, their side (government) lectured us about the long-term interventions that they said would take effect after three years while we maintained that they required immediate interventions,” he said.

Lowering the cost of fuel, electricity and food, said Kioni, do not require laws or constitutional amendments but policy and administrative action.

According to him, the government’s failure to show commitment was evident during the talks after the government went ahead to “pass the controversial Finance Act, reduce capitation for students and continue to mutilate multi-party democracy”.

“While the Bomas team was busy with the talks, the National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula unilaterally declared Jubilee a parliamentary party and came up with his one set of party leadership, which is not part of his job description,” decried Kioni.

 Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

He said it was an insult to Azimio’s proposal for respect of political parties when they were denied their duty to de-whip the errant elected leaders accused of shifting allegiance from the opposition to the government side.

According to Raila, the reason the Kenya Kwanza administration opposed the opposition’s proposals on tackling the cost of living was to deny it political credit.

Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi, who was not at the meeting, told this writer that they have direction to support the Nadco report in its original form without amendments.

“As a party, we are satisfied that the report is good and this was okayed during our ODM parliamentary caucus chaired by Raila and we will be approving it in the National Assembly when we resume,” he said.

Angered by Uhuru’s new efforts, National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung’wah has criticised the former president, referring to him as a ‘master saboteur’.

“During the talks, (Uhuru) used Kioni to try and scuttle the talks from within. When that failed, he tried to belatedly get the rest of the team to refuse to sign up but being honest negotiators who had engaged us in good faith, they couldn’t find a reason not to own what was clearly their work. Uhuru was left clutching onto Eugene, Karua and Kioni,” claimed Ichung’wah.

But a section of the Kenya Kwanza MPs from Mt Kenya who did not wish to be named were apprehensive that a Raila-Ruto camaraderie would disadvantage their region politically, fearing a repeat of 2007 events where Raila led a team that isolated the mountain from the rest of the country.

“Their unity (Raila and Ruto’s) would work against us. We only hope that it will not end up that way because our community may be the target of their 2027 political matrix and this is what those defending a Raila-Ruto union are not understanding,” said an MP.

The lawmaker said whereas Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua was coming up well as the Mt Kenya kingpin, a Raila-Ruto union may also decide to bring Uhuru on board and that would give his foot soldiers a new political lifeline to the disadvantage of Gachagua and his allies.

“However you look at a possible Raila-Ruto marriage, Mt Kenya region stands to lose with or without Uhuru in the political scene,” the MP added.

 Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. [File, Standard]

A political pundit, Charles Njoroge, noted that whereas Raila and Ruto may have agreed on the Nadco report, another showdown between the political heavyweights would be on whether or not to involve Kenyans in changing the Constitution: Will it be through a referendum or Parliament?

“The issue will determine whether the two former allies-turned-foes will unite politically and this is where the leaders who do not want their union should focus on,” said Njoroge.

Among the issues agreed on by the Kimani Ichung’wah and Kalonzo Musyoka-led team was a recommendation that all arms of government reduce their travel budgets by 50 per cent, and for the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to slash daily subsistence allowances for State and public officers by 30 per cent.

A proposal was also made for the Energy ministry, in liaison with the Treasury, to reduce road maintenance levy and anti-adulteration levy by Sh5 and Sh3 per litre of fuel respectively.

“Nadco recommends that the government finalises the transfer of all devolved functions and provides for the concomitant resources to the county governments,” Nadco report said.

There was also a unanimous agreement by the 10-member committee on the establishment of the offices of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Official Opposition, which have divided members from across the political divide whether or not to go on referendum.

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