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William Ruto's strategy to 'tame' Raila Odinga with Opposition office

But an internationally brokered pact created the Grand Coalition government in a sharing of spoils that is popularly referred as 'Nusu Mkate' government that literary rescued Kibaki from the political deathbed. Under the arrangement, Kibaki would continue being president while Raila took on role of Prime Minister, where he coordinated government functions.

Handshake of 2018

A divisive 2017 re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta led to chaos that paralysed the nation, giving rise to the Uhuru-Raila handshake on March 9, 2018. This would later birth the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and a political partnership that William Ruto of UDA would later defeat in the August 9 elections.

And now, recent events point to President Ruto following a similar approach in trying to 'disarm' Raila.

Keen to seal all apertures, have total control of the political scene, and have a smooth run to help him implement his pledges, Ruto has covertly extended a 'handshake' with the Azimio la Umoja leader through the proposed creation of the Executive Office of the Opposition Leader.

Ruto's party, UDA, has openly said it will support an Amendment of Section 38I, No 11 of 2011 in the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill, which seeks the establishment of the Office of the Official Opposition Leader.

"It is a possible long-term solution to post-election national cake sharing and to a problem created between the Odinga's and Jomo Kenyatta days in the 1960s," said political scientist Peter Kagwanja. "It seeks to give a constitutional solution to a national paralysis."

Raila's Azimio prepared the Bill that will be presented to Parliament when it resumes from the long recess. During a Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group meeting at Windsor Hotel last week, Ruto asked MPs to rally behind the proposal which would make the minority side more effective in keeping the government in check.

Raila's lawyer Paul Mwangi declined to be dragged into discussing the merits and demerits of the proposed amendments only offering a cryptic answer to the question.

BBI agenda

"Why was it not a good idea when proposed by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)?" posed Mwangi, who once served as an Adviser on Coalition Affairs to Raila.

"When did it become a good idea? Why did it become a good idea? Those are the only questions that need to be addressed before we go any further," he said. But political analyst Amukowa Anangwe said Ruto has awakened to the fact that the Opposition could be partly neutered through giving them an avenue to vent, legally.

"Ruto is an old political hand since the Kanu days. He is also a student of Moi. He watched all his moves at coalition building and subsequent ones under Kibaki and Uhuru from close quarters either as a direct participant or chief protestor," said Prof Anangwe. President Ruto has repeatedly said he will not have a handshake with Raila but would instead encourage him to 'constructively offer opposition' to his government.

The Bill in Parliament seeks to have the candidate from the political party that receives the second greatest number of votes in a presidential election occupy the Office of the Official Opposition Leader. "The Office shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal, and shall, in its corporate name, be capable of, suing and being sued; taking, purchasing or otherwise acquiring, holding, charging or disposing of both movable and immovable property; borrowing money," reads the amendment Bill. It will also be expected to enter into contracts or perform all such other acts necessary for the proper performance of its functions under this Act, which may be lawfully done or performed by a body corporate.

The leader and the deputy leader of Opposition will have a secretariat that will have a budget to run, essentially moving opposition leaders from communication through press conferences and rallies to a formal office.

Creation of the office could be seen as a subtle power game and an extension of an olive branch to the man who Ruto beat with just over 200,000 votes in the August election.

Though Ruto's coalition enjoys a majority in Parliament, he has in every political move indicated he is eager to have a less tumultuous first term in office and has hosted leaders, including those from the opposition, at State House. Azimio has constantly accused him of canibalising the Opposition.

"What this office will do is canalise the opposition into a structure where they can speak and feel they are being heard," said Prof Anagwe. Notably, when Raila last week indicated that they will have their public engagement with the people in Kamukunji grounds, Ruto though sounding tough, promised to offer security to the meeting.

Ruto and Raila have no love lost and have worked closely before and, though the two were differing politically, they have similarities, including being tough grassroots mobilisers. During his presentation at the Chatham House in early 2019, Ruto pitched for the creation and recognition of the official opposition in Parliament, noting that the current formulation undermined executive accountability and saddled the country's democracy with a dysfunctional opposition.

Ruto then averred that it was not prudent to have a leader of a party garnering the second highest votes with no formal constitutional role noting that Kenyan elections were close-run contests where often enough, the winner and runner-up achieve more than five million votes. "The winner ascends to a formally constituted leadership role while the runner-up becomes a virtual stranger in leadership," he said at Chatham House.

Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni said the move by Kenya Kwanza to bring the amendment was not magnanimity because the Bill had been prepared in the 11th Parliament.

Kioni said they were not opposed to the amendment as long as it was done in line with the Constitution.

Copy-pasted

"You cannot anchor the changes by amending an Act of Parliament to bring the Leader of Official Opposition. It will mean a parliamentary system as proposed by the BBI which Ruto rejected but has now been copy pasted in the amendment," said Kioni.

Kioni said the amendment is derived from fear of the calls to rallies. "It is welcomed because you cannot have serious political leaders outside Parliament. When they have something to say, where can they say it? and when they do that it becomes a serious onslaught on government," said Kioni.

But Prof Kagwanja describes the amendment as most welcome saying it would capture the spirit of the Kenyan political structure of government in power and government in waiting (opposition) by giving both access to national financial and human resources.

"Post-election cake sharing has been a historical Kenyan problem and any move to deal with it is much welcome," added Prof Kagwanja.

Defence CS Aden Duale said Kenya Kwanza was acting in the recognition that the oversight agencies needed to be strengthened.
"We shall not go for a merger on the lines of the Kanu-NDP marriage and we dont envisage a situation where a leader that Kenyans wanted to oversight the government becomes a squatter," said Duale.