NAIROBI: It took a hearty meal of ugali and fish to soften the belligerent politicians, who poured their hearts out in symbolic confessions that bridged political fault lines. After nearly an hour of banter over a meal brokered from cold stinky cells at Pangani Police Station, the politicians from rival CORD and Jubilee coalitions reflected on past transgressions that had sowed ethnic hatred.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who set up the luncheon last week during visits to six MPs locked up over hate speech charges, was glad to pick the tab for the meal that cost him not more than Sh10,000.
Sitting next to him at Ranalo Foods Restaurant at the heart of the capital was Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who is in trouble over utterances deemed to call for the assassination of the former Prime Minister.
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The vow to strive for a nation where political differences do not stoke hatred was the enduring resolution from the symbolic get-together, where candid confessions were on the cards.
After feasting on Ugali, fish and osuga vegetable, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, who fainted in court last Friday when they were finally charged after spending four days in the cooler, opened up.
He stunned the audience by confessing to, among other ‘sins’, chasing Raila out of his Nakuru home town and punching two CORD senators in Parliament.
“From today, Raila is my brother. He was the only leader who came to see us at the cells. I am so sorry because I recently chased him from Nakuru town when he was holding a meeting with ODM leaders from the county,” said Mr Ngunjiri.
He admitted to have physically assaulted Senator Johnstone Muthama and his Bungoma counterpart, Moses Wetang’ula, during a chaotic sitting in Parliament in December 2014, when the changes to the controversial security laws were approved.
“I punched Mr Muthama and Mr Wetang’ula during the session in Parliament. I ask for forgiveness. I will give each one of them a goat. I will also give a goat to Senator Boni Khalwale for saving my life in court when I fainted,” said Ngunjiri.
“Mr Ngunjiri who is standing here alinilima ngumi katika bunge (he punched me in Parliament). I am happy he has asked me for forgiveness. I forgive him unconditionally,” said Wetang’ula.
Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire recalled the humiliation he and his colleagues suffered while in police cells. The MPs were forced to relieve themselves in a bucket placed in a corner.
“I had never before been held in custody by police in my life. On that day, I thought I was being asked to go to the police station to be questioned, only to be thrown into a cell like a fool. Nobody visited us for 12 hours. I had never seen a grown man relieve himself before others,” said Mr Bosire.
Muthama said they set aside their differences with Kuria, and their co-operation made life easier.
Muthama recalled how, after CORD named him and four other leaders to the team to negotiate reform of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Deputy President William Ruto at a prayer breakfast jokingly said that Jubilee would include Kuria and Mr Waititu to counter him.
“Ruto unknowingly said the two will deal with me. We gelled well at the cell, we ate from the same plate with Kuria, I slept on his shoe as my pillow and he did the same, and we relieved ourselves in the same bucket,” said Muthama.
For Suna East MP Junet Mohammed, who was the youngest legislator among the ‘Pangani Six’, a subdued Kuria at the cells was a shocker.
“When we were thrown into the cell at night, I thought my colleague Kuria was mwanamme (man enough). I was shocked to see him helpless and knew things were thick,” recalled Junet, who announced that he has put the Gatundu South MP on a two-month probation, to see if he will revert back to his older self.
“If you go back to your former self, I will be there to deal with you,” he said on a light touch.
Kuria said their coming together should be a lesson to Kenyans not to fight each other because of the perceived differences between the leaders they support.
“I want to see a Kenya where I can comfortably go to Kisumu and ask for votes and Raila does the same in my Gatundu constituency and he sleeps in my house. Differences should not be a cause of enmity between us,” he said. “I spoke to Kuria when he was in the police cell and I invited him for lunch. I am glad he has honoured my invitation. I have forgiven him,” said Raila.
“Every police cell and prison must have a bed, mattress and blanket. Being locked up in itself is punishment enough. They should have mosquito nets. I did not like seeing my elder brother covering himself with a paper bag to keep mosquitoes at bay. The conditions at the cells must be improved,” said Kuria.
Earlier during meal time, Kuria, who sat between Raila and Wetang’ula, appeared at ease and laughed heartily with the two leaders, never mind that a week ago the Gatundu South legislator was quoted in the media calling for the assassination of the Opposition chief.
Raila ate Tilapia stewed in coconut oil with brown ugali and a helping of osuga vegetables. The meal, according to the Ranalo Foods proprietor William Osewe, is the ODM party leader’s favourite dish at the outlet, which he frequents.
Kuria took the same meal but with dry fried fish, with Wetang’ula, who engaged him in animated conversation throughout the luncheon that lasted for over an hour, eating fried fish and ugali.
Busia Woman Representative Florence Mutua opted for beef stew.
Kabete MP Ferdinand Waititu, who was arrested and charged alongside the seven, was conspicuously absent, but sent apologies that he was attending a funeral in his constituency.
Junet, Aisha and Mombasa Woman Representative Mishi Mboko, who had accompanied them, did not eat. The trio are Muslims and they are fasting. Kalonzo Musyoka was also present.
For a political class that only days ago had nearly pushed the country to the brink, the symbolic lunch together was welcome relief on a day the cohesion watchdog warned acrimony had reached crisis levels.