The circus that is bipartisan talks

Bipartisan Committee Members lead by co-chairs Otiende Amollo and Tharaka MP George Gitonga Murugara after they addressed the media at Bomas of Kenya on May, 17, 2023. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

The bipartisan talks between President William Ruto and Raila Odinga’s representatives are turning out to be a cat-and-mouse game, with no end in sight to constant wrangling.

Nearly two months since the talks were initiated, nothing substantial has come out of it. Meetings of the 14-member committee chaired by MPs Otiende Amollo (Rarieda) and  Gitonga Murugara (Tharaka) have ended in stalemates, amid accusations and counter-accusations of lack of commitment.

The Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya side has issued fresh sets of demands, with the Kenya Kwanza Alliance stringing them along with promises that are either ignored or fulfilled under immense pressure. Azimio leader Raila Odinga yesterday accused the government of playing games with the talks, promising consequences. Raila is now giving Kenya Kwanza a Monday deadline where they are expected “listen to the plight of Kenyans on the controversial Finance Bill 2023 or face their wrath.” 

“When we turned the heat up on them, they called for talks, to which we agreed. But now they are playing games... “We are ready for talks. We are also ready for games,” he said at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi.

“We are giving them this week and we will soon blow the trumpet. We told them that we have critical issues we should discuss,” Raila added, as he accused Ruto of recklessness in handling issues Azimio has raised that wananchi face, such as skyrocketing cost of living.

The former prime minister spoke as his coalition pulled out of the talks indefinitely, citing their Kenya Kwanza counterparts’ reluctance to implement interim measures ahead of the negotiations.

Amollo yesterday wrote to Murugara wondering why his co-chair had not signed a letter addressed to Marjan Hussein Marjan, the CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), and another addressed to chairperson of the IEBC selection panel Nelson Makanda.

The letter to Marjan sought to have the IEBC preserve the 2022 presidential election servers to facilitate an inspection, with the letter to the selection panel seeking to stop recruitment of new commissioners.

Murugara had last week written to Amollo proposing that the Makanda-led panel suspends recruitment for 21-30 days and had agreed to co-write a letter to the IEBC reminding them of the legal obligation they had to preserve the servers and other election material. But the two letters only bear Amollo’s signature.

“He had sent the letter asking that I sign it and there are areas I did not agree with,” Amollo said. 

The Rarieda MP had written to his Tharaka counterpart on Tuesday, enclosing the said letters as well as resolutions of Azimio’s parliamentary group meeting, which included an ultimatum for the government to withdraw the unpopular Finance Bill by midnight Tuesday.

“Further, we also note that you have not responded to the additional matters raised in the resolutions of the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition Parliamentary Group Meeting forwarded to you. In the circumstances, it is our considered opinion that the appropriate action is to adjourn the Talks sine die, in accordance with Clause 36 of the Framework Agreement, which we hereby invoke,” Amollo wrote in yesterday’s letter.

However, Muragara told The Standard that they will continue engaging the Azimio side, especially on contentious issues. “Azimio has not withdrawn from the talks. They have just adjourned indefinitely, and indefinitely could even mean ‘tomorrow’. We will continue engaging on the things we did not agree such as the two letters, which we did not feel captured matters as we had agreed upon,” Murugara said. 

Murugara said he intends to use section 34 (d) of the framework of agreement which grants co-chairs the authority to engage in deliberations with their respective party leadership when a consensus cannot be reached within the committee.

On Tuesday, Azimio introduced a new demand - the withdrawal of the Finance Bill - with National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi announcing the suspension of the talks.

“We suspend the joint bipartisan talks until Kenya Kwanza withdraws the punitive Finance Bill 2023,” the Ugunja MP said.

The committee has consistently bickered over several issues, the first of which was its initial composition. Azimio successfully opposed the inclusion of Eldas MP Adan Keynan in the committee as a Kenya Kwanza representative, arguing that his Jubilee party was still in Azimio.

The government side dropped its initial resistance after threats of a resumption of opposition demonstrations. 
Kenya Kwanza was unsuccessful in pushing for withdrawal of Pokot South MP David Pkosing.

They had argued that his Kenya Union Party had joined Kenya Kwanza from Azimio, an argument the opposition coalition dismissed.
Prior to the suspension of the talks, once the committee had put in place the preliminary issues such as rules of engagement the next cause of action was to start working on the specific demands presented by each camp.